“At right is the Jason Lee Middle School which, after 15 months of upgrades and construction, will be open to students in the fall. (Photo by Bonnie West) The 15 months of modernization and addition construction work on the first middle school built in Tacoma, Jason Lee, is nearly complete.The school, built in 1926, will welcome eager sixth through eighth-grade students through its doors on 6th Avenue again this fall.At least $19 million worth of building and site costs-that included bringing the school up to seismic and electric codes-were put into the structure which will be capable of holding up to 800 students. Students from the school have been attending Truman while the facility has been under construction by Absher Construction.The site was originally going to be the University of Puget Sound, said Jeff Ryan, senior associate at Merrit & Perdini and the project’s architect. They sold it to the Tacoma School District and moved to their current location at Alder and Union. We found foundations and other things from that campus that materialized when we started digging.He said the middle school was originally named Westside Intermediate School but was later changed to Jason Lee Middle School.The school was named after Jason Lee, an early Christian missionary to the area who worked at the fort in Nisqually.The school has 150,000 square feet. Ryan said there was a 30,000 square foot addition added in 1968, as well as a gymnasium.He said the cafeteria has been upgraded as well as the library which now are easily accessible. The problem was that there had been an eight foot grade difference between the two buildings even though the two were only 100 feet apart. There are now ramps and an elevator for easy accessibility. The structure has a new front on its north side so that it greets both the Hilltop and Central neighborhoods equally.The new landscaping, by Sky Landscaping, gives the school a city park look and brick patterns copied from historic sidewalk patterns in the district have been incorporated.The school’s historic auditorium was designed by Rolan Borhek, who designed the Rialto Theater in downtown Tacoma. The auditorium seats 1200 people and 900 in the balcony. It now has a projection booth as well as cross aisles which were added for accessibility.Ryan said a remodeling project in the 1970’s to modernize the auditorium added false ceilings that lowered the original plaster ceiling by 14 feet. You couldn’t see the high plaster relief on the ceiling and the plaster work on the walls was obscured as well, he said.Students and visitors will now see the original, barrel-vaulted, high-arched ceiling, restored plaster work on the balcony railings and around the stage as well. The theatre now has a lobby for gathering, which will also serve as an entry lobby for students coming in from the buses. Outside, a bus lane was added to the site for safety.The school has a brand new library on the second floor which will hold 15,000 volumes of books. Students who gaze out the window will have a beautiful view of the Olympics.It’s important for us to preserve a historic school like this, Ryan said. Schools were always the center of the neighborhood in all small districts. They need to be preserved and restored because people like to have something that links them to the past. It roots them to the neighborhood.He added that what often happens when a revitalization process begins in an area, it brings improvements to the business district and to the housing by virtue of the fact that the school was fixed up.The area is seeing this already, he said. “
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