Quileute Tribe gets $44.1 million to build school on higher ground

LA PUSH — The Quileute Tribe has received $44.1 million in federal funding to move its school to higher ground, officials said Tuesday.

Tara MacLean Sweeney, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, announced funding for the tribe to design and build new school buildings on a 60,950-square-foot campus about 250 feet above sea level.

Moving the Quileute Tribal School from the tsunami zone in La Push to a safer location has long been a priority for the tribe.

“We want to acknowledge the decades of hard work by former tribal members, our elders, previous councils as well as the collective of individuals and officials who have worked on the ‘Move to Higher Ground’ effort throughout the years,” the Quileute Tribal Council said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“Our focus has always been on moving our children out of the tsunami and flood zone and we are grateful for this funding that will ensure the safety and protection of our children for the next seven generations.”

The new school for the tribe’s 79 kindergarten- to 12th-grade students will be built in a recently-harvested forest area between the A-Ka-Lat Center and the Third Beach trailhead on the west side of La Push Road.

The new campus is about 2 miles southwest of the existing Quileute Tribal School, which was built in 1992 about 20 feet above sea level and within earshot of crashing waves.

A yellow school bus stands ready to evacuate children in the event of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and 40-foot tsunami, which occur every several hundred years.

Scientists have said the last magnitude-9.0 Cascadia quake and tsunami occurred Jan. 26, 1700, wiping out low-lying coastal areas within 15 minutes.

Funding for the new Quileute Tribal School comes from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In 2016, Indian Affairs selected the Quileute Tribal School and Blackwater Community School in the Gila River Indian Community in Coolidge, Ariz., for replacement through the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

In addition to the funding for the Quileute Tribe, Sweeney also announced Sept. 25 a $30.1 million allocation for Blackwater Community School.

“Today is a great day for Native education at Indian Affairs,” Sweeney said in a news release.

“I am excited for the next phase of this process to initiate for these schools. I appreciate everyone involved with these projects from Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, the schools, and tribal communities for their dedication to take these schools from an idea to the world-class buildings that they will become.”

The new Quileute Tribal School will have athletic fields, a regulation-sized gymnasium, cafeteria, music room, performing arts stage and dedicated space for language and cultural classes and vocational programming, tribal officials have said.

Quileute Tribal School Superintendent Mark Jacobson has said he hopes the first graduating class in the new school will be the class of 2020.

Future phases of the Move to Higher Ground project include a community services campus with an elders center, government services campus and additional housing at the 275-acre site.

The existing lower village at La Push will remain.

In a 2017 interview, project manager Susan Devine said the tribe’s top priorities for Move to Higher Ground have always been the school, the elders and long-term housing.

Federal legislation that passed in 2012 transferred 785 acres of Olympic National Park land, including the Move to Higher Ground site, back to the Quileute Tribe.

The legislation, which ended a 50-year-old boundary dispute, was sponsored by former U.S. Rep Norm Dicks and backed by U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Patty Murray, D-Seattle.

The Quileute Tribe has a website for its Move to Higher Ground project at www.mthg.org.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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