By Michael Dashiell
Olympic Peninsula News Group
SEQUIM — The addition of four classrooms using innovative building material at Greywolf Elementary School in Carlsborg is a welcome sight, Sequim School District officials say.
But Greywolf Principal Donna Hudson noted last week, “This doesn’t give us extra room; it gives us just the right amount of room.”
Community members and school staffers celebrated Thursday the official opening of a four-classroom structure on the Greywolf campus made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), one of five school districts across the state taking part in a pilot project.
Engineered by crisscrossing and fusing layers of wood, the material is a promising new product, project officials say, because of its relative strength and stability. The timber can be made from smaller-diameter trees such as those harvested as part of forest-thinning and restoration projects.
The CLT panels used at Greywolf were created from Olympic Peninsula timber and manufactured in Oregon.
Greywolf’s building project began March 25 and was completed — minus some finishing touches and additions of classroom furniture — June 23, Hudson said.
“These kind of community efforts make a difference,” Sequim Superintendent Gary Neal said.
“This was a great opportunity for us,” he said. “We’re really limping along in terms of our elementary schools. [That] forces us to have 21st-century solutions. Our 20th-century solutions don’t work out very well.”
As of June 2017, Greywolf housed 548 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Helen Haller Elementary classrooms held 618 students.
Sequim continues to use 13 classrooms in seven portables at Helen Haller and eight classrooms in four portable classrooms at Sequim High School. Portables are intended to be temporary solutions to overcrowding, school officials said.
Neal gave kudos to Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Democrat from Sequim who represents Legislative District 24, for his efforts in getting the CLT pilot project funded. As capital budgets chairman, Tharinger worked to keep the project in the previous state budget.
Tharinger was unable to attend Thursday’s ribbon-cutting. He and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, hailed the CLT project in a community gathering at Greywolf Elementary in late April.
Praise from teachers
Hudson said she had several teachers without classrooms using carts to carry their supplies from room to room.
Bethanie Robbins, Greywolf’s kindergarten specialist, who teaches everything from computers and physical education to art, science and writing, will have a classroom of her own next fall thanks to the classroom additions.
“I [was using] a wagon, so anything would be fabulous,” she said last week.
Starting last July, Robbins — a 13-year Greywolf veteran who used to teach kindergarten full time — worked with designers to advise what teachers would like to see in the new CLT classrooms.
“They asked, ‘What’s your dream?’ and to think outside the box about what would be great [for teachers],” Robbins said.
While budget limitations did quell some of the group ideas, Robbins said what designers developed should be a big boost for the four kindergarten teachers in that space.
“These rooms utilize everything as a learning opportunity,” she said, noting that some of the sliding doors can be used as whiteboards — a kind of modern chalkboard used for class lessons. “It’s beautiful, but it’s also very functional.”
Carla Drescher and Kelli Mishko, two of the four kindergarten teachers who will be in the CLT building this fall, said they were impressed with the size and efficiencies of the CLT classrooms.
“It’s more spacious than we imagined,” Drescher said.
Unlike the classrooms in Greywolf’s main building that are connected by hallways, the CLT building features a kind of open floor plan and transparent doorways that give the feeling of common space between rooms.
“I’m looking forward to kids being able to move between all four classrooms,” Mishko said. “It’s more like a cooperative learning [environment].”
“It’s a new concept,” Drescher said. “This is more communal. We’re not closed off.”
Other schools in the pilot project are Jefferson Elementary, Mount Vernon School District; Maple Elementary, Seattle School District; Valley View Elementary, Toppenish School District; and Adams Elementary, Wapato School District.
The state’s 2016 supplemental capital budget included $5.5 million in the state building construction account for the project.
Read more about the cross-laminated timber project at des.wa.gov/about/projects-initiatives/cross-laminated-timber-pilot-project.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.