Thousands of students in Yakima County returned to class this fall for another year of learning and growing. With so many people coming in and out each day, school buildings and campuses require regular maintenance and upkeep.
In the area’s largest district, the Yakima School District, officials focused on maintenance projects that keep schools clean and welcoming, as well as fulfilling promises made to the community regarding the Davis High School Auditorium, a project that is in progress.
Some schools embarked on larger projects to repair damage to a building, like Naches Valley Elementary School after a flood near the beginning of last school year. Others needed to remodel due to growth, like East Valley High School.
The Yakima Herald-Republic spoke with school officials across the Valley to check in on recent or pending construction and renovation projects.
Naches Valley Elementary
Just before the start of fall classes last school year, a water main broke at Naches Valley Elementary School and flooded most of the school. The first day of classes was pushed back as staff scrambled to make the building serviceable for more than 400 students.
At the time, then-principal Eric Valentine said making the building usable was more important than making it pretty. Once students rolled in for the school year, it would become nearly impossible to complete large-scale repairs to the building.
Valentine is now the principal at Naches Valley High School. His successor at Naches Valley Elementary, Brian Amundson, said when he came on board in July, repairs were already underway.
Nearly every classroom needed repairs, as most of the building flooded with an inch or two of water. Classrooms and hallways received new flooring. As part of the renovations, classroom entryways received a redesign. When kids enter the class or use the sink area, they stand on tile floors, which are easier to clean than the carpet that covers the rest of the room, Amundson said.
Workers tackled the classrooms first and only had a few months to get the repairs done before students returned.
“The focus was getting classrooms done first so that we’d be ready for kids,” Amundson said. “And then the hallways were secondary.”
The drywall along the bottom of many hallways was also repaired and painted. The school also brought in a mural artist to repair the trunks of painted trees that decorate the school’s main hallway, Amundson said.
The school building is only about six years old. Amundson said it’s the most beautiful he’s worked in during his 25 years in education and said it reflects well on the whole community.
“I am so proud of the school,” he said. “The work that has gone into the actual building … it says something about this community, that they were willing to spend the money and the investment to do this.”
East Valley High School
To help accommodate increasing enrollment, East Valley School District embarked on a series of construction projects. The district recently wrapped up the final stage of the plan, extensive renovations to East Valley High School.
The COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues delayed the project, but the final renovations were completed this summer, Superintendent Russ Hill said at the grand opening ceremony for the high school. Many of the renovations were finished last school year and students have already put the building to use.
Loofburrow Wetch Architects helped design the high school. Architect Gary Wetch called the project a “labor of love” that took more than seven years.
Several parts of the school underwent renovations, Wetch said. The auditorium and commons area were redone to better accommodate disabled visitors.
Much of the south wing of the building underwent changes. On a public tour of the school, Hill said that many of the renovated classrooms were more spacious. The school also recently added new features for students like an indoor archery range for its Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students and a computer lab for esports gaming students.
The building was designed with growth in mind. The high school had about 1,000 students enrolled last school year, but can accommodate up to 1,200 students, Hill said.
This fall, the district will ask voters to pass a capital levy to expand the East Valley Central Middle School Commons, according to Yakima County Elections Office documents.
Yakima School District
The Yakima School District operates 21 campuses. Over the past year, it has focused on maintenance for many of its schools on the east side of town, said YSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Maintenance Anthony Murrietta.
Several school buildings got fresh paint, including Ridgeview, Martin Luther King Junior and Adams elementary schools and Lewis and Clark, Washington and McClure middle schools, Murrietta said.
The district has taken a new approach to cleaning up graffiti. Whenever a wall gets tagged, the whole wall is painted so the repairs are less noticeable, Murrietta said.
The district is committed to creating clean and welcoming school environments that students and the community can be proud of, Murrietta said. Even something as simple as keeping the grass cut can make a difference.
“So, (we’re) really proud of the fact that we’ve done all this and we’re hoping that it makes a difference with the kids and how they feel and we’re hoping the community sees it,” he said .
Barge-Lincoln Elementary School underwent a beautification project that added more green space and two new mini soccer pitches, courtesy of the Seattle Sounders’ RAVE Foundation.
The largest construction project in the district is an update to the Davis High School auditorium, a project that resumed in December.
The Davis auditorium renovations are the final piece of a decades-long project to renovate Davis, Eisenhower High School and Stanton Academy, Murrietta said.
The project needed $3.5 million more than the district anticipated, due to high supply and labor costs, Murrietta said. YSD is moving forward with the project but it had to delay other renovations to help balance the budget.
“We just decided that we were going to have to hunker down and do what’s necessary to make that project happen,” Murrietta said.
The district expects the auditorium will be complete in late January 2023.
Other school projects
Several other local school districts engaged in construction or renovations over the summer.
The Selah School District completed construction on its John Campbell Primary School, which serves first- and second-grade students, district public relations specialist Heidi Diener said in an email. Students started using the new building in January, but workers completed paving and landscaping projects in July. The primary school project was the final stage of a bond-funded project from 2018.
Selah also completed renovations to the Robert Lince Early Learning Center, which serves preschool and kindergarten students, Diener said. Renovations included updating classrooms and improving the flooring.
The Granger School District broke ground on a new track at its high school in June. The old track stood for over 50 years. The district expects to finish at the end of September, executive assistant to the superintendent Yessica Ramirez said in an email.
The Union Gap School District completed roofing on its gymnasium this summer, Superintendent Lisa Gredvig said in an email. The district will ask the community to pass a bond this fall so it can update building security, expand the kitchen and construct an auxiliary gym.
The West Valley School District replaced a significant amount of concrete at its junior high school. The auditorium underwent lighting upgrades and the baseball field received additional bleachers. The district is also continuously renovating its Innovation Center, which previously served as the freshman campus, district communications director Amy Forrest said in an email.
The Toppenish School District recently started a project to add multipurpose rooms at its high school and middle school, assistant superintendent Shawn Myers said in an email. The district is also amid construction on a new early learning center.
The Sunnyside School District added portable classrooms at Chief Kamiakin Elementary School, which houses the district’s kindergarten program, district communications director Jessica Morgan said in an email. The district also added new playground equipment to that school.
Last school year, the Mabton School District added three new classrooms to Artz-Fox Elementary School, Superintendent Joseph Castilleja said in an email.