There is no longer a controversy, the parties are talking and working on agreements. The new, updated Parkland Community Association and PLU have met on several occasions. Agreements and funding are being diligently worked on. An engineering report has been created and a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation has granted the funds for a planning report.
On May 15, 2022, 6th District Councilwoman Jani Hitchen attended the Nordic Spring Banquet at the Scandinavian Cultural Center of Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). At the event, she spoke about the unlisting of the historic status of the Parkland School Building and noted PLU was planning to demolish it for the construction of a 5 story apartment complex.
That revelation was shocking news to the Parkland residents present, who had no idea PLU was planning the demise of the community’s historic school. Council member Hitchen further explained there was a meeting of the Pierce County Landmarks Commission on Wednesday, May 17th, where this issues was going to be up for a vote.
Local residents quickly called their friends and neighbors, posted the news and meeting information all over local social media sites, and by the Wednesday meeting, there were 37 people, including Jani Hitchen and 4 Commission members on the Zoom call. Attendees learned that the Commission had actually addressed the historic status at the March 15 meeting, but there was no public in attendance, although they had posted a public notice in the local paper. Citizens on the call chastised the Commission for not posting a yellow sign on the school premises, or making any better attempts to contact the community. The Commission, recognizing that they had never had such a large turnout in any meeting, chose to revisit the historic status issue and table the demolition issue. It was moved to the Tuesday, June 21, meeting at the County Annex. That 6 p.m. meeting had live attendance. The room was packed. The Landmarks Commission, after hours of testimony, voted to keep the historic status in place.
Then, the citizens of Parkland went to work on mobilizing their community around the issue. They have held meetings, posted on social media, created signs, banners and brochures, researched records, and turned out in force at the 6th District Council District Meeting at the Lakewood City Hall on May 25. Dressed in red shirts and waving their “Save the Parkland School” signs, 15 Parkland supporters commented during the Council Citizens Forum at the end of the meeting.
On June 6th, at 6:30 p.m., Councilmember Hitchen held a Conversation with the Community at James Sales Elementary School, 11213 Sheridan Ave S, Tacoma, WA 98444. The loss of one of the last historic community buildings was the center of the conversation. The potential for many other uses for such a structure in this diverse community with many low income residents was readily apparent.
The Landmarks Commission was established by the Pierce County Council in 1984, in Ordinance 84-23. That ordinance specifies the procedures for properties to be listed and unlisted from the historic register. That Commission added the Parkland School to the register.
Going back in history, on September 9, 1986, 24 schools in Pierce County were added to the Historic Register, Parkland School was one of the 24 listed in the passage Ordinance 86-84, signed by Pierce County Executive Joe Stortini. The document states recognition of the “role which schools played as the focal point for community development.” Additionally, the ordinance states, “Schools were encouraged to become centers of community social and intellectual life… these building were the only ones centrally located and able to hold gatherings of people within a convenient travelling distance… and are often the only building remaining which suggests early settlement activity.” “Historically, they symbolize the results of early local control, and the development of the many communities which have evolved in Pierce County over time.”
The members of the Parkland Community have continued to meet and strategize regarding alternative uses for the Parkland School, should they be successful in stopping the sale, unlisting and demolition. Contact with local school districts, State Representatives, potential local donors and other non-profits and businesses that could use a renovated historic building are all underway.
Responding to all the uproar, and a visit by a select committee of citizens, (Phillip Edlund, Gunnar Johnson and Jesse Paez), President Allan Belton of PLU sent a letter to Councilmembers Hitchen and Campbell dated August 3, 2022. In that letter, he offered to pause the demolition and, sell the historic building for $2.85 million if the Council or community could produce the funds. They also adjusted the property line for the two parcels which was splitting the building in two. The deadline for that purchase is July 31, 2023.
Following that offer, the community reorganized the Parkland Community Association and has submitted the request for 501 (c)(3) charitable status, in order to facilitate the building purchase and assist the community in other issues as well. Lori Curtis was elected President, Julie Collison and Jesse Paez are Co-Vice Presidents. Winfield Giddings and Melody Stepp are Co-Treasurers and the Co-Secretaries are Kate French and Wendy Freeman. They are partnering with the Spanaway Community Association, who is a current holder of a 501(c)(3) status for fundraising purposes. A GoFundMe site was set up and has raised several thousand dollars for the project.
Since that time, Parkland’s grantwriter, Wendy Freeman, has been successful in a Valerie Sivinski Fund grant of $2,000 and a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant for $5,000. The grant from the National Trust Preservation Fund is to support the Historic Preservation and Planning Report for Saving Parkland School.
Where initially there was surprise and contention, there is now a concerted effort toward fundraising, cooperation and a purchase agreement is being drawn up.
Losing a central, prominent and historic site in the community is most certainly not in the interests of this motivated group of Parkland residents. They are working diligently in the back ground, exchanging emails and texts daily. Some are going door to door at local businesses. If you see them, please help if you can.
Until the Parkland charitable status is confirmed, donations for the PURCHASE of Parkland School building may be made to the Spanaway Community Association, a 501c3 non-profit organization:
By check to:
SCA, PO Box 1971, Spanaway, WA 98387
Put Parkland School Purchase in the ‘for’ line on your check
Or visit the GoFundMe link at https://gofund.me/7dd760c3
March 28, 6 p.m., Parkland Community Association at Trinity Lutheran Church, 12115 Park Avenue S., Tacoma. They meet on the fourth Tuesdays each month.
May 20, Keithly Middle School a fundraising event is being planned, TBD. This will be considered the birthday party for the school building; it will be115 this year.
Community members suggested alternate uses for the Parkland School:
After School Center
Blue Zones Project space
Community meeting space
Non-Profit office space
Local history, Museum Space, former memorabilia from school is in the PLU Archives
Satellite site for the Pierce County Skills Center – a Performing Arts School
Family support center for Franklin Pierce Schools
History of the Parkland School
The first Parkland School was made of wood and built in 1887, across Pacific Avenue from the current site. It was moved to the current site in 1889. The first, front section of the current Parkland School was built about 1908. The building is made of sturdy masonry stone. Local schools at that time hosted 1st through 8th grade. Additional high school education had to be sought at Lincoln, Kapowsin, Roy, Puyallup or Stadium High Schools. In the 1930’s Federal money was made available for school projects across the nation to provide construction jobs in the depression era. Two additional sections were added to the school during that time, including the gymnasium and theater section.
In the 1950’s, after school district consolidation, the Parkland School became Parkland Elementary School in the Franklin Pierce School District. Franklin Pierce added a one story section on the south side of the school with several additional classrooms and glass block windows.
In the 1990’s, Franklin Pierce School District sold the Parkland School to Pacific Lutheran University and it became their East Campus. In 2013, a section of Garfield Street and the southern classrooms of the Parkland School were demolished and PLU oversaw the construction of the Garfield Apartments and other businesses on the section of Garfield Street between Park Avenue and Pacific Avenue. For several years, the private Mount Rainier High School occupied the Parkland School building, but they left in 2017.
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Mt. Rainier High School left because PLU did not renew their lease. They had recently upgraded the gym, thinking they’d be allowed to stay.