Outside the new Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, a weather-aged bell sits atop a wooden stand.
But the bell – which called classes to order when Pioneer first opened in 1892 – and the name are about the only holdovers from Pioneer’s Steilacoom digs. A 106,000 square-foot, $34.6 million building opened for classes to its 650 students Thursday, and students and faculty alike were buzzing before the first day of school was half finished.
It’s obvious even before one steps into the building that it’s a vast upgrade: Bose speakers mounted to the walls play classical music and kid-friendly rock. Inside, the school seems open and inviting.
"When I came in, I said, ‘Wow, this is beautiful,’" eighth-grader Ashley Connors said. "I think the building is going to be nicer than our high school."
Her classmate, Jazmyn Winegar, was impressed with the new second-floor library, which principal Kristi Webster calls "our tree of learning." Eighth-grader Matt Stillings, was eager to see the new SMART Boards in action.
Even the architecture should help learning, Webster said. The doors to all the classrooms at the old school led outside; in the new location, the entire building is enclosed.
"Kids were always in the weather," Webster said. "They were always wearing coats. They had to fight the elements just to get around. This should make a huge difference in the school climate."
Webster addressed each grade during assemblies in the new gymnasium Thursday morning, her voice booming over the new sound system. She and other faculty members went over the usual lessons, like dress code, discipline and dress code. But the new school gave rise to new questions. A student group explained to their classmates how they needed to walk on the right side of the school’s five staircases. (The old location had none.)
Others weren’t sure what entrance to use when the bus dropped them off, or where to line up to board when the day was finished.
Webster stressed that the new school will be a learning experience for faculty and student alike. Hanging on each door is a printout announcing what each room is. The library’s shelves aren’t full; Webster said the school ordered $55,000 worth of books, and many have yet to arrive.
But even though it’s in a new building, she said, it’s still Pioneer Middle School.
"A building doesn’t make an institution. It’s the faculty, the staff, the students, the parents. But this helps build a community, and it’ll help us take learning to another level."
What: Grand opening of Pioneer Middle School. There will be a ribbon-cutting, flag raising, classroom and technology tours, entertainment, refreshments and fun run.
Where:1750 Bob’s Hollow Lane, DuPont
When: 1-4 p.m., Sept. 20