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Park Place Middle is new, decked in blue, and state-of-the-art
Tamara Krache

Park Place Middle School, once a cluster of 1970s brick buildings on west Main Street, is almost all grown up. Construction phase one of two is complete, with 28 classrooms ready for the school year.

MONROE — Park Place Middle School, once a cluster of 1970s brick buildings on west Main Street, is almost all grown up. Construction phase one of two is complete, with 28 classrooms ready for the school year. The school now stands two stories. A new track field means Park Place can host meets.

An open house was held Tuesday, Sept. 5. As a couple hundred parents and kids toured the halls, compliments flowed. The school's blue accent walls caught many eyes. Topography maps and other graphics are laid in the walls.

"It's a lot more modern," eighth-grader Devin Anderson, 13, said.

Teachers are smitten with the new tech. Many classrooms have 75-inch touchscreens that have a Microsoft Surface computer built in to provide interactive learning. A recent school technology levy paid for these. A few students shrugged, but this was, after all, the end of their summer break. Park Place Middle can house 825 students. It currently has 776 kids enrolled.

"It's really big, it's like a maze," seventh-grader Alyssa Fuller, 13, said.

Teacher Craig Day still had cabinets to spare in his science classroom. It's that big. Noah Joao's eyes popped with the new shop area.

"It's awesome, definitely a big upgrade," seventh-grader Joao, 12, said. He and teacher Rich McCutchan listed the tools: laser printers, hand saws, drill presses, robotics equipment. "Everything you could ever want," Joao said. A garage door that lifts up means big projects can be wheeled out.

There are still portions to finish for the $69 million modernization. A handful of students still have classes this year in the old Building "F." When students move out of there, that building will be repurposed within the school district. The project's second phase includes a new, bigger gym set to open next year. Natural lighting brightens the school.

"It's totally built with kids in mind," said teacher Chad Donohue, who greeted students at the top of the second floor stairs at the open house.

The school district is placing eighth grade classrooms near each other as a pod. It means some students have their next class in the classroom next door instead of scrambling to make it to next period.

The school might try grouping seventh and sixth graders together in the future, assistant vice principal Joel Garrison said.

Math teacher Jodi Stalter teaches in one of the pods. The 120 kids she and other teachers will see in a day are grouped to learn together. These particular kids are in a pilot program that has no bell schedule. It's to give teachers flexibility to finish the lesson before students move to the next class. A central area with one of those big touchscreens gives an added learning space.

The school's blue hues both inside and out were an architect's touch. The colors reflect "the mountains, the rivers and the interplay of the rivers," district assistant superintendent for operations John Mannix said.

Garrison called the decor "consummate Northwest."

"It's brand new, it's not worn out," seventh-grader Chayton Garcia said. He's excited to meet new friends as Monroe is growing.

The school's all-in-one building ditches the "California style" open campus it used to be when it was originally Monroe High School. The style had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s school architecture but never exactly caught on in rainy Washington state. The layout's premise is to scatter buildings and let students get in daylight walking as part of their school day. It's also seen today as a nightmare for controlling school security; the Lake Stevens and Everett school districts, among others, are ditching this layout style when replacing schools. Parents like the layout. It's better than having kids getting wet between classes, dad Dave Anderson said.

See the article in it's entirety, written by Michael Whitney at the Snohomish Tribune here.

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