The adults were in charge, but the day was all about kids Monday as symbolic shovels of dirt were turned over at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Students from two on-base elementary schools – Hillside and Carter Lake – helped celebrate the start of construction to replace both aging schools. The new schools, operated by Lakewood’s Clover Park School District, are scheduled to open in fall 2013.
Isaiah Rich, a soon-to-be Hillside fourth-grader, and Malcolm Bell, who will be a fifth-grader at the school this fall, were among the kids helping adults wield the shovels.
Isaiah said participating in the ceremony was fun, while Malcolm was glad to be part of the emblematic start of construction.
“They say we’re making a tradition,” he said.
Both schools will be rebuilt at their current locations: Hillside is on the Fort Lewis side of the base, while Carter Lake serves kids near McChord Field. The new Hillside will house up to 650 students; Carter Lake is being built for 500 students.
“We’re very, very excited,” said Megan Mitchell, who works as a paraeducator at Carter Lake and is the wife of Air Force 1st Lt. Brian Mitchell. The couple will have two children at the school this fall.
“They’re going to get a new playground and new classrooms,” she said. “We’re especially excited about the space.”
The two schools are the first to be constructed under a new Defense Department initiative designed to replace aging and substandard school buildings at military installations across the nation. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who shepherded the initiative through Congress, said at Monday’s ceremony that the plan is to budget $770 million over three years to replace 33 schools.
Officials designated Carter Lake and Hillside for immediate replacement, and plans are to replace four more JBLM schools in the coming years. Most were built in the 1950s or early 1960s.
The bulk of the money for the two new schools comes from funding established at Dicks’ request, after a Pentagon analysis showed there were school buildings in poor condition scattered among the nation’s military bases. The rest of the money will come from state construction funds.
The total budgeted cost for Hillside is $33.7 million, with $31 million for the slightly smaller Carter Lake.
Other dignitaries at Monday’s groundbreaking included U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, JBLM Garrison Commander Col. Thomas Brittain, and Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army. Also present were Clover Park School District board members and Superintendent Debbie LeBeau.
Smith said it’s important to ensure that military kids have access to quality education. He praised Dicks for fighting for the money to replace aging schools.
“He was tenacious in making sure the Department of Defense was aware of the problem,” Smith said.
Dicks said the schools will serve “the children of the people were are sending to Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s why we are doing this.”debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8635