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Bond proposes doubling Pope Elementary School capacity
Bond proposes doubling Pope Elementary School capacity
Posted on 08/19/2015

A school bond package on the November 3, 2015 General Election ballot includes a proposal to expand and remodel Pope Elementary School to accommodate projected enrollment growth.


Pope Elementary was built to serve about 550 students and is projected to grow significantly in the next five to 10 years as families move into new housing developments in the region.


The expansive “Emerald Pointe” development, for example, is under construction on the far south end of the district and falls within the Pope Elementary attendance boundary.


The development is part of the Sunrise Master Plan community and is the largest active residential project in the district. More than 300 single-family homes and 221 townhomes are planned, and many are yet to be built.


Portable classrooms, which are detached units that sit on the school property, have eased the school’s crowding over the years; however, they are not acceptable as a long-term housing solution, said Chief Operations Officer Rudy Fyles.


The temporary units provide a place for children to learn, but they have less than half of the space needed to fully educate students, Fyles said. Students housed in portable classrooms still need to come inside the main school building to go to the library, gym, specialist rooms, computer lab, and restrooms.


“The extra students put a strain on those support spaces inside the building,” he said.


The proposed expansion, including a planned two-story classroom addition on the north end of the existing building, would double the school’s enrollment capacity. The school would have 44 home rooms, or approximately six classes per grade level.


The larger school size of 44 home rooms is designed to accommodate high growth in the area, including about 2,000 homes yet to be built in the Sunrise Master Plan community on the southeast edge of the district.


On a typical day this past year at Pope Elementary, visitors who entered the school between 11:30 a.m. and noon routinely found themselves dodging long lines of students being served lunch in the main foyer.


While the school does its best to stagger students moving through the line, there are as many as 90 kindergartners, first graders, and second graders in the lobby at one time, said former Principal Dave Sunich.


Sunich served the past several years as Pope Elementary principal before being reassigned this year as principal at Puyallup High School.


The crowding in the lobby and surrounding halls is compounded, Sunich said, when students in older grades file through the area on their way to and from the gym, music, recess, or library.


Lunches routinely spill on the floor, especially when younger students are so close together in line while trying to balance their food trays at the same time, Sunich said. A student who buys hot lunch can spend as much as 15 minutes of a 30-minute lunch break simply getting through the line.


Noise from lunch carts rolling across the tile floor and from students in the lunch lines are also disruptive to nearby classes, teachers say.


`“We want to be a welcoming school, but our biggest lunch is served at the same time as many parents come in to pick up students or drop off lunches that children forgot at home,” Sunich said. “It’s hard to get to the office through all of the kids.”


A cafeteria and lunch-service area is included in the proposed classroom addition and expansion project.


The larger school would also support more collaboration between teachers since grade levels could be grouped together, Sunich said. It would also have designated spaces for small group instruction and could support technology similar to what is available in newer schools.


In addition to providing more classroom space, the bond project proposes expanding the bus loop and increasing the number of parking spaces to accommodate the increased student capacity at the school.


“The larger parking lot would be a tremendous improvement,” Sunich said. “We always have a long line of cars picking up students, and at times they back up onto the busy street.”


While the new school would address projected enrollment growth, Sunich said it would also “bring more pride to the school.”


Pope Elementary opened in 1981. New carpet, paint, lighting, and improved heating and cooling systems were included in $3 million of improvements funded as part of the 2004 school bond measure.


The proposed Pope Elementary bond project would begin the design process in January 2017. Construction would begin in February 2019 and be finished in time for students to occupy their new classrooms on the first day of school in September 2020.