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August 25, 2016

Tahoma School District responds quickly to surging enrollment

  • Construction of the state’s largest high school is underway, and contractors are upgrading four other schools in just 53 days.
    Skanska USA Building


    Population growth and aging school infrastructure has created a K-12 school construction boom. The Puget Sound Regional Council reported that our regional population reached 3,985,040 people in April — a 2.2 percent increase over the past year.

    The region’s schools are already overburdened, and population growth means more students filling classrooms. So school districts are taking control of the issue and getting creative.

    Maple Valley’s Tahoma School District is handling an influx of students particularly well through strategic phasing of new construction and renovations.

    Exponential growth

    The Tahoma School District, formed in 1943 by consolidating several rural school districts, is undergoing its largest expansion and reorganization.

    The district is now building Tahoma High School, which will house 2,400 students and have the most square footage of any high school in the state: 312,300 square feet.

    Two other Tahoma High Schools have come before this one. The first Tahoma High opened in 1927 as “TaHoMa” High School. It cost $109,776 and was funded through a special taxing district approved by voters in the Taylor, Hobart and Maple Valley school districts.

    Students chose the name, using the first two letters of each school district that voted to create the high school. The name was later modified to drop the capitalization of “H” and “M” and was applied to the new school district.

    Photos courtesy of the Tahoma School District [enlarge]
    Cedar River Middle School is being converted to an elementary. The work shown here is for the main entrance.

    The second Tahoma High opened in 1974, and the original high school was converted to a junior high. It currently operates as a middle school.

    Both buildings will continue to serve students when the new THS opens. The 1927 building becomes Tahoma Elementary School, and the 1974 building transforms to Maple View Middle School.

    The area has grown exponentially since then. With the construction of the new Tahoma High School, the Tahoma School District had the opportunity to repurpose four other schools to accommodate growth and long-term goals.

    However, timing was key: The contractor would only be able to work on the schools during summer break, and staff needed the schools ready for the new students in time for the big shuffle in fall 2017.

    The school district took the opportunity to renovate all four schools — 400,000 square feet overall — in 53 days.

    Countdown to construction

    The Tahoma School District put the project out to bid in late December 2015, reviewed bids and held interviews the first week of January 2016.

    Tahoma awarded the projects that same week. Working within a short timeline, Skanska used January through June to develop a two-phased approach.

    Walls are starting to go up for a new play shed at Tahoma Middle School.

    Given the nature of renovations, Skanska and BCRA partnered to develop a list of existing conditions to study to reduce the risk of unforeseen conditions during construction. BCRA phased their design to support Skanska’s expedited procurement.

    4 schools, 53 days

    With the end of the school year came the beginning of construction. In June, Skanska launched the first phase of work, which means finishing as many renovation features as they can before school starts again in September.

    The success of this project relies on unique partnerships and solid communication between Skanska and Tahoma School District staff, the school board, BCRA and the design team.

    With the condensed timeline and coordination that needs to happen in the blink of an eye, Skanska project staff has created a solid communication system with the school board members.

    Here are the upgrades taking place at each school:

    Tahoma Junior High

    Tahoma Junior High will become Summit Trail Middle School, and crews will build security upgrades to manage incoming and outgoing traffic.

    Tahoma Middle School

    Tahoma Middle School will become Tahoma Elementary School. Changes include:

    • Renovating the administration building to accommodate security upgrades

    • Converting onsite buildings into a kindergarten with a new restroom

    • Adjusting kindergarten classroom configurations to create a communal atmosphere with interconnecting doors

    • Seismic upgrades for the gymnasium

    • Converting a football field into a covered play area with playground equipment

    An entrance to the commons at Tahoma High School. The main classroom wing is on the right.

    Tahoma High School

    Tahoma High School will become Maple View Middle School, and upgrades include:

    • Renovating school entrances to accommodate security upgrades

    • Adding a restroom

    • Converting part of a parking area to a passenger-vehicle drop off zone

    Cedar River Middle School

    Cedar River Middle School will become Cedar River Elementary School. Changes will include:

    • Renovating the administration offices to accommodate security upgrades

    • Converting fields into a covered play area with playground equipment

    • Replacing all existing flooring

    • Adding fresh paint on all of the common walls

    • Building a concrete art piece to place in the courtyard to make it more welcoming

    • Adding additional staff parking, pads for future portables, drainage and retention ponds

    Finishing touches will be added in the summer of 2017, but until then Skanska will discontinue construction while school is in session.

    When all is said and done, students will be moved into the new Tahoma High School and into four schools with new names and significant upgrades. With the condensed timeline and coordination that needs to happen quickly, Skanska project staff created a solid communication system with the school district. In addition, the school district is using a general contractor/construction manager process that has expedited the process to accommodate the timeline.

    Finishing attributes slated for completion next summer include the decommissioning of the onsite portable buildings, landscaping, drainage features and rain gardens.

    (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the school board was granted permission to make decisions without a formal board meeting. The board does not have that authority.)

    Dan Curtiss is a senior project manager who has worked in the K-12 GC/CM market sector for 12 of his 20 years with Skanska.

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