LAKEWOOD — The schools are the heart of this community of 8,700 people.
Lakewood doesn’t have a city hall or community center. There’s no courthouse or public plaza or library.
There are the schools.
So the big hole in the ground next to the 33-year-old Lakewood High School is a big deal, district leaders and longtime neighbors say. That’s where the new high school is expected to take shape over the next year and a half.
The Lakewood School District blankets 23 square miles, most of it rural countryside in the Seven Lakes area that straddles Marysville and Stanwood. The portion of the district closest to I-5, along Highway 531 at Smokey Point, is expanding. Hundreds of new apartments were built last year and another shopping center is going up next to them.
Just beyond the frenzy of construction, the highway narrows to two lanes and bumps over railroad tracks into the quieter core of Lakewood. Horses graze in an open field across the street from the high school.
There are five schools within a mile of each other. Four of them — the high school, middle school and Lakewood and English Crossing elementaries — share a campus at the corner of Highway 531 and 11th Avenue NE. Cougar Creek Elementary is farther down 11th Avenue. With 2,300 students, Lakewood is the fifth smallest of Snohomish County’s 15 school districts.
“The school is the identity of the community,” said Wayne Robertson.
He was superintendent in Lakewood from 1985 until 1998. The high school was considered state of the art when he started.
“But that was a long time ago,” he said. “The community definitely got it’s money’s worth out of that school.”
Lakewood High School opened in 1983. In April 2014, local voters passed a $66.8 million bond to pay for a renovation. The district’s board of directors decided a new school could be built for roughly the same cost and in March awarded a $48.5 million construction contract to Allied Construction Associates Inc. The rest of the money was used for planning, design and site preparation work.
The school should open by September 2017.
There are sure to be challenges during construction, school board member Jahna Smith said. Transportation is tough with construction at the high school and down the road at Smokey Point. Students and teachers have to put up with the noise and navigate around the mess while the new school goes up next door to the existing one. This year’s graduation ceremony is at the outdoor Tulalip Amphitheater because parking is so tight at the high school.
Smith urged patience. It’ll be worth it, she said.
“The schools are what bring our community together,” she said. “I think the new facilities are going to draw people to use them in ways they really haven’t before.”
Steve Jensen, 47, has lived in Lakewood all of his life. He graduated from Lakewood High School in 1987, the first class to spend all four years in the then-new building. His daughter is a junior and part of the last class expected to graduate from the school. His eighth-grade son should spend his high school years in the new building.
Jensen’s parents were teachers in Lakewood for three decades. His great grandparents owned a blacksmith shop across the street from the post office.
“Growing up, the nice thing was everyone knew each other because it was a small, tight-knit community. Graduation classes were well under 100 people,” Jensen said. “Now, with all the construction, it’s growing. But it’s still a close community.”
Settlers were drawn there more than a century ago. Real estate brokers selling land in the area reportedly dubbed the spot Lakewood.
The first classes took place in 1888, six students learning in the home of a local family. Three separate school districts were formed between 1891 and 1909 before merging in 1914. Lakewood was originally kindergarten through eighth grade. High school students were bused to Arlington.
There were 70 students when the districts merged.
“And (Smokey Point) used to be a few shops and a gas station, kind of a wide spot in the road,” Robertson said. “Now it’s a real commercial center.”
The new school is designed for 825 students, about 100 more than current enrollment. Despite the construction around I-5, district officials don’t anticipate a major jump in enrollment, Superintendent Michael Mack said. The district includes lakeside neighborhoods where development is limited.
Crews have finished prep work for the school and are putting in the foundation. A ground-breaking ceremony took place Wednesday.
The biggest changes in the new school involve safety, technology, arts and sports. Instead of 45 doors, designs call for a handful that can be monitored and locked. Science classrooms are expected to have space and up-to-date technology for lessons and experiments. An auxiliary gym would let more than one indoor sports team practice at the same time and the outdoor fields and track would be tournament ready. The new performing arts center at the school could be used for band, choir, drama and community events.
A two-story glass entryway is planned. When the sun goes down, it should glow like a beacon, Mack said.
“It might sound cheesy, but we really designed it that way so people can go, ‘That’s our school. That’s our community. That’s us.’”
Because in Lakewood, the high school is more than a school.
“We don’t have a town. Our town is the post office, the store and the church,” Jensen said. “That’s something we can hang our hat on is a new school.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.