Although preliminary classroom framing inside the former DeVry building in Federal Way resembles skeletal stages of construction, “the bones are strong,” said Drew Phillips, principal of Forma Construction.
Superintendent Tammy Campbell and Federal Way Public Schools officials had their first look at the current construction underway at the former DeVry building in late May.
The district purchased the building for $13 million in February 2019 with plans to house Wildwood, Lake Grove, and eventually Star Lake elementary schools while the new schools are under construction.
The district’s long-term goal for the building, 3600 S. 344th Way, is to make it a permanent K-3 early learning facility.
FWPS previously announced the former DeVry building, not yet formally renamed by the district, will open on time for the start of the 2019-2020 school year this September.
Campbell reiterated that timeline on the May 20 visit, adding that the district is “racing to finish on time” and has “every intention” to be open by the first day of school Sept. 3.
“I’m feeling solid about it,” Campbell said about her first walk-through. “This is where I kind of thought we would be right now.”
Rather than pouring money into portables with short-lived and smaller classrooms, the district opted to renovate the DeVry building, Campbell said. These renovated spaces will have long-term uses for the district beyond the next five to eight years.
“This building has strong bones. There’s no reason it can’t last 50 years,” Phillips said.
The district said Forma Construction is currently working to turn this building into a safe, appropriate temporary home for the elementary school scholars.
For this site, Forma Construction comprises a crew of about 45 members; between 20-25% of the crew live within the Federal Way Public Schools district, Phillips said.
“That’s what we’re wanting to do, is to have our own local community benefit from our construction projects,” Campbell said.
This original building is ideal to convert into a school building because of the type of construction and the current structural integrity and fire safety systems, said Kassie Swenson, the district’s chief of communications.
The largest piece of the renovations is resizing and repositioning existing rooms to create appropriately-sized classrooms and ensure each classroom has access to natural light, according to the district. There will be 45 classrooms in the renovated building to house nearly 1,000 kindergarten through fifth grade students.
Wildwood and Lake Grove will work collaboratively throughout the school during the first year, although the first floor will be dedicated to grades K-1 and the second floor will accommodate grades 2-5.
The facility will also serve as the temporary home for Star Lake Elementary in the 2021-22 school year while the new school is under construction.
The building will include two library spaces, one for each school; a full-sized cafeteria that can serve up to 250 individuals at one time; and a full kitchen that will be similar to the kitchen being built in all of the district’s new elementary schools.
“A lot of our elementary schools don’t have kitchens,” Campbell said during the tour. “So the fact we’re having a kitchen here is … the vision for where we’re headed.”
The building met 1997 building codes, but to meet the 2015 building codes, the building needed a structural upgrade, Phillips said. This includes piling down 45 feet and constructing new footing of the concrete walls to reinforce the old concrete walls to meet code, he said.
“The bones of the system are all retained,” Phillips said of the fire-proofing systems.
Each floor of the building is about an acre of space, Phillips said, to total just under 100,000 square feet throughout.
“There won’t be any reason [the students and staff] won’t feel like this is a permanent school,” Phillips said.
Two large activity spaces, approximately 4,000 square feet each, will be equipped as indoor spaces for physical education classes and indoor recess, as well as before and after school programming, according to the district.
Due to the pre-existing site, there will still be outdoor opportunities for kids to exercise and play at this location, Phillips said.
“They’ve got more [space] than most typical replacement school projects,” Phillips said.
Given the limited time frame the district faces, the first priority is remodeling the building to get the classrooms ready for the start of the school year, Swenson said in an email.
“There are a few items that we are still working through, including exterior playground areas,” Swenson said. “We know that there will be a safe and appropriate outdoor activity area for our scholars, however, this may not include a standard big toy or full playground, like the ones being built at the new elementary schools.”
There are no Washington state laws or regulations (RCWs or WACs) that require exterior play facilities to be available to students, Swenson stated.
Federal Way Public Schools follows OSPI and the health department’s safety guidelines for new, permanent play facilities, such as those at the new Mirror Lake, Lake Grove and Wildwood elementary schools, she said.
As for transportation, all students at both Lake Grove Elementary and Wildwood Elementary will have the opportunity to ride the bus for the 2019-20 school year, according to the district. Three new bus stops will be added for each school, and parents also have the option of driving their students to the temporary location at DeVry.
“We know there are additional details to work out, including what the outdoor activity space will look like and specific bus routes, and we will continue to provide updates to families as details become available,” Swenson said.
While the district is factoring in timelines, budgets and overall well-being of each student, expectations must be realistic, Campbell said.
“Our goal isn’t to make it perfect like the schools they’re going back into … we have to lower our expectations to what’s reasonable and what’s cost effective,” she said. “We are taking this site and making the most out of it as efficiently as we can with the dollars that we have.”
Voter-approved bond funds were not used for the purchase or renovation of this building, the district reports. School Construction Assistance Program funding will be used to pay for the acquisition of the land and building. The $18 million cost of renovations is covered by a state grant to reduce K-3 class size.