Tacoma's historic schools inventory nears completion

Historic Tacoma announced Thursday its “Preserving Tacoma’s Historic Schools” project, a collaboration between Historic Tacoma and Tacoma Public Schools, is nearing completion.

According to Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters, the first stage of the project identified and documented many of Tacoma’s historic schools. An historic resource inventory of 24 schools dating from 1908 to 1958 was funded by the school district to better understand the architectural and cultural significance of its older schools, some of which are slated for rehabilitation with bond levy funds.

The inventory was conducted by architectural historian Caroline Swope of Kingstree Studios. Documentation has been provided to the City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office, the WA Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the school district. Dr. Swope will present her inventory findings to the Tacoma School Board at their meeting on May 3 at 5 p.m. (***UPDATE*** The start time has changed from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m.), recommending that several of the inventoried structures be nominated, as a group, to the Tacoma Register of Historic Places.

According to Winters, the ultimate goal of the project is to preserve and protect Tacoma’s historic schools, each of which is an asset to our community. The second phase of the project aimed to increase awareness of the historic buildings owned by the district. A 20-page publication, available in print and PDF versions, was funded by Historic Tacoma with a $2,200 grant from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Washington. The booklet includes archival photos and highlights a selection of significant historic schools, representative architectural styles, development trends, and prominent architects, Frederick Heath and Robert B. Price, who designed a number of Tacoma schools. The publication is available for download from Historic Tacoma’s Web site at http://www.historictacoma.net/ht/tacoma-tours/ .

Several of the historic middle schools are vulnerable, said Winters. Gray and Gault are both vacant and Hunt Middle School is scheduled for replacement. Each may face demolition if an appropriate re-use cannot be identified by the school district or the community. Others, such as Washington Elementary and Stewart Middle School, will be rehabilitated and re-used as school structures within the next five to ten years. Only Washington, Stadium and Lincoln High Schools are currently on the Register and thus protected.

“Tacoma Public Schools has a strong record of rehabilitation and re-use of buildings such as Jason Lee Middle School, Lincoln and Stadium High Schools,” said Winters in an e-mail Thursday. “Historic Tacoma hopes the District will build upon that record, one which demonstrates a commitment to the re-use of buildings constructed of sustainable materials, the use of local labor and materials to rehabilitate those structures, and the retention of buildings which represent stellar architectural design and which serve as neighborhood anchors.”

Oakland Alternative High School in Tacoma's South End was built in 1912 by architects Frederick Heath and George Gove. It is one of more than two-dozen pre-1960s school buildings owned by Tacoma Public Schools that could be eligible for the City of Tacoma's register of historic places. (PHOTO COURTESY SHARON WINTERS / HISTORIC TACOMA)