Thousands of Thurston County students return to school on Wednesday.
And those who attend North Thurston High School in Lacey can expect some major changes.
The nearly 1,500-student school is midway through a massive, five-year redesign and modernization project. This summer, crews stripped out and remodeled the commons area, turned former music rooms into a new space for the library, built a new special education suite, and added 10 new classrooms and science labs.
“This is a complete transformation when you look at the old classrooms,” teacher-librarian Steve Coker said during a recent hard-hat tour of the school. “It’s fantastic.”
In addition, more than 100 much-needed parking spots were added to the school’s south parking lot. And the corner on Sleater Kinney Northeast and Kasey Keller Drive Northeast was leveled off to give students a new outside gathering space.
One of the biggest changes: The grand staircase that was once a central focal point of the school was removed, and replaced with a smaller staircase that hugs the wall.
The building was redesigned so that the library can now serve as the “heart of the school,” said Dean Martinolich, director of construction and design for the school district.
The project was designed by Cornerstone Architectural Group of Kenmore. FORMA Construction was the contractor for phase one, and Berschauer Group is the contractor for phase two. Both contractors are locally based.
North Thurston High School opened in 1955, then serving grades 7-12. Before that, all students in the area attended Olympia High School.
The original school was built in 1954 on 38.4 acres. In 1967, the school’s auto shop and pool were added, followed by the library in 1972. During the early 1980s, the first building was completely demolished and rebuilt. An auditorium was added in 1995.
“This is the third version of North Thurston High School,” said district spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve. “The old-timers remember it as a different building.”
The work completed this summer was the second part of a three-phase project that’s estimated to cost about $45 million, Martinolich said. It’s being paid for with money raised through a $175 million bond measure that voters approved in 2014.
The first phase included a new 41,000-square-foot fitness center that opened last year, featuring a main gym, an auxiliary gym, a weight room, a wrestling room and locker rooms.
The main gym features windows, which is unusual for most high schools, but harkens back to North Thurston’s first gymnasium.
“It was really well-known because it had these windows on the side,” Coker said. “The thinking was it was kind of a throw-back to the original gym.”
The first phase also included new music classrooms in the James Koval Center for the Performing Arts, and a 28,000-square-foot administration and classroom addition.
Phase 2 is a total modernization of the existing 120,000-square-foot school building. Crews finished about $5 million worth of work this summer, Martinolich said.
“Right now, we’ve got crews working 50 to 60 hours (per week),” he said.
Construction is expected to continue through the school year. The contractor has agreed to work a later shift to help minimize impact on classes, Martinolich said.
North Thurston’s alumni were heavily involved in the design of the project, and successfully advocated for more trophy cases in the fitness center and retaining a piece of the entry from the original school, Martinolich said.
The project’s third phase is expected to begin next summer and will include more remodeled classrooms, removal of 14 portable classrooms, an expansion of a retaining pond and the relocation of the bus loop.
Crews also will plant trees and improve sidewalks around the high school’s campus and along Sixth Avenue, all the way down to neighboring Chinook Middle School, Martinolich said.
“I think everyone is really excited to see the new remodel,” said assistant principal Darrin Lowry. “It’s very exciting.”
The entire project is scheduled to be completed by September 2019.