STANWOOD — When schools shut down last March as coronavirus cases began to rise, Principal Christine Del Pozo did not think students would still be learning from home almost a year later.
Construction of a new Stanwood High School is complete, but most kids will have to wait even longer to start classes there. A small fraction of the student body began to use the school about a week ago.
“It’s definitely a weird feeling to be in a brand-new building and not have students,” Del Pozo said. “So especially this week it’s been very exciting to be able to actually have students.”
She started working at the high school 16 years ago. The district proposed a bond that same year, but it was rejected, she said.
In 2017, voters approved a $147.5 million bond to build the new school. Del Pozo called it a “dream come true.” Crews began to work on the 260,000-square-foot building about two and a half years ago. While the school is open, some small finishing touches still need to be completed.
Del Pozo hopes to bring all students into the school before summer, even if it is for just a few hours a week. More than 1,200 attend Stanwood High School.
Staff moved into the new building in December. Around 20 teachers, about a quarter of the staff, have started to teach virtual lessons from their classrooms, Del Pozo said.
An estimated 60 kids have started to attend the school. Those include students who are homeless, don’t have internet access, are English language learners or have certain special needs.
On Wednesday, Del Pozo watched from a third-story window as the old school was demolished. It was built in 1971.
In the new school, giant monitors are in the gym and the commons. All the lights in the building can be shut off with one main switch. Before, a janitor had to go to every room.
When it comes to security, the new school has one entrance that will be locked at the beginning of every school day. Visitors and students who arrive late will have to check in at the main office. The old building had about 80 doors that opened directly to the outside.
Only 30 lockers are available, besides those for band instruments and in gym locker rooms. That way there isn’t much space to search in the case of an emergency. Students for the most part have stopped using lockers anyway, Del Pozo said.
One of her favorite spaces is the commons, where students can hang out and eat meals. A big staircase leads down to the open, bright area. One side of the room is only windows. Big wooden benches take up half the stairs, where people can sit.
Hallways outside of classrooms are filled with cushioned chairs near big whiteboards that cover entire walls. Teachers can bring classes there or move smaller groups there to work.
The gym has a similar layout to the old school, with one big court and two smaller ones above it.
“This was one of the important things to the community,” Del Pozo said, “to have three gyms and to look down to the main floor.”
The bigger gym is for main sporting events, assemblies and gym class. Natural light streams in through portals in the ceiling, though there also are electric lights.
Some pieces of the old building are being incorporated into the new, such as the wooden gym floor. It’s going on the outside wall leading into the new gym as an art piece. Bleachers with the Spartans logo also have moved from the other building. Those are only about four years old, Del Pozo said.
A new-floor smell fills the gym. That venue likely won’t be used for a while. It’s been a hard year for sports, Athletic Director Tom Wilfong said.
“It’s tough not having kids in the building and not watching them play,” he said.
Coaches are still meeting with students virtually. They hope to have some events later in the year, maybe without an audience.
When construction first began, the plan was to open the school in fall 2020. Even in the midst of the pandemic, crews nearly met that goal.
Lately, enrollment has been going down, partly due to job losses in the area. If those numbers start to rise, the school was set up in a way that more space could be built onto it, Del Pozo said.
Demolition of the old building is scheduled to finish in April. Parking spaces and a drop-off loop are expected to go in its place.
School leaders plan to seal a time capsule in the wall near the entrance to be opened decades from now. Perhaps it will show a glimpse of what it was like to live through this strange time, as the school was being built.
Del Pozo isn’t sure yet what to place inside, but one item might be a face mask.
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; email@example.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.