New School Planned for Dupont, Wash.

Sep. 16--DUPONT -- When a new Steilacoom Historical School District middle school opens here in 2008, the building will be more than three times as big and will sit on more than six times as much land as its predecessor.

Pioneer Middle School -- a nearly 90-year-old brick building in Steilacoom that is the district's lone middle school -- doesn't have enough classrooms and the classrooms it does have aren't always big enough.

Though the three-acre campus' capacity is 317, almost 600 students attend the school.

That's why school officials and students alike were excited about the new middle school, which had its groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon.

"It's really about having the space for every student and every teacher," said Mike Winkler, a Steilacoom Historical School Board member.

Construction on the building is set to begin in January. Educators chose Friday for the ground-breaking because it landed on the anniversary of the Steilacoom Historical School District's official recognition as a Washington school district.

The $34.4 million, 104,240-square-foot building set to replace Pioneer will sit on a 20-acre site surrounded by Center Road, Palisades Boulevard and Bob's Hollow Drive -- less than a mile from Chloe Clark Elementary.

The project largely will be paid for through a $55.9 million construction bond that voters overwhelmingly approved last year.

More space isn't the only reason students and educators are looking forward to moving into the new building.

Pioneer also has dated science laboratories and an antiquated heating system that school staff members must turn on every morning.

"It's always too hot or too cold," Principal Dan Luce said, adding that the school office isn't heated at all and must rely on space heaters.

The new middle school also will have updated technology. For example, the new school will have computer projectors that can display the Web pages on classroom screens rather than overhead projectors requiring teachers to create transparent copies of their materials.

"It's a state-of-the art instructional center," Luce said, describing the new building. "We're going to have what kids need and what teachers need to be effective."

The new building uses substantial natural light and will have three two-story classroom wings -- one apiece for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Sammy Scott, an eighth-grader at Pioneer Middle School, said he likes attending the existing school but can understand why the district is building a new one.

"It's obviously in pretty bad condition," the 13-year-old said. "We don't really care about that, though. We have so many friends, and we all come together. The teachers are really great."

Brandon Wissmer, a fifth-grader at Saltar's Point Elementary in Steilacoom, will attend both Pioneer and the new middle school.

"It's going to be different going from one to the other in one year, but it's also fun not to have to stay at the same school for three years," the 10-year-old said. "I guess it's going to be an all new experience."

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