Students gather in the common area at the new Lakewood High School building before orientation and tours Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Students gather in the common area at the new Lakewood High School building before orientation and tours Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Students return to brand new Lakewood High School

LAKEWOOD — Hours after the doors opened to them for the first time Wednesday morning, there was evidence that high school students had been in the commons.

A lost earring glittered on the floor. An academic planner lay forgotten under one of the tables. Cracker crumbs marked where a student had hastily scooped up his dropped bag of Cheez-Its before hurrying with classmates out to the sports stadium.

From inside the new Lakewood High School, cheers could be heard from the stadium. A welcome ceremony was under way for more than 700 students. On the other side of the building, visible through expansive new windows, construction crews continued tearing down the old high school. Heavy equipment bit into the walls and ceiling of last year’s classrooms.

The new building isn’t complete yet, but it was close enough to open on time for this school year. Yellow caution tape blocked the hall to a wing still under construction. Staff took inventory of furniture at the same time that students saw their new classrooms. Gray folding chairs had been set up in the wrestling room so it could be used for band class; the music rooms still were framed walls and exposed insulation with wires for power tools running along the floor. The gym should be open soon.

Not all students who want to drive to school are allowed to yet because parking is limited until the old high school is demolished and a new lot is added.

The bright, airy commons and library are done, as are rooms for science, English, math and more. White lab coats hang in the back of science classes, and there’s one room with stoves and kitchen supplies lining the walls, where students will learn about nutrition, budgeting and other independent living skills. There also are computer labs, shared learning areas and a shop class where equipment is being installed for drafting, design, machining and 3D printing.

The high school was built with money from a $66.8 million bond narrowly passed by voters in 2014. It’s built for up to 825 students.

“I think we first started talking about it in 2009, and to be part of the design and the build and the finish work, and now my new role with the upkeep, that’s pretty cool,” facilities supervisor Dale Leach said. He was high school principal for seven years and on the design team.

High school junior Olivia Poulton, 16, thinks the new school will bring students closer, even though it’s a bigger space.

“I love it,” she said. “When I walked in, I totally thought it was an outlet mall, it’s so big and bright. I’m excited for all of us to be here together.”

Ron Thorvilson has taught for 36 years in Lakewood. He remembers moving into the old high school when it was the district’s newest building in 1983. That was right after Lakewood added high school courses. It previously was elementary and middle school only.

“There’s no comparison” between the new and old schools, Thorvilson said. “My big joke was that I wouldn’t retire until we got cable TV. We never had cable over there.”

There still are touches of the old school in the new. The former gym floor was repurposed and placed under the wide stairwells, a shiny wood surface with big red letters spelling “Cougars.”

Nancy Connor has worked for more than 18 years in the high school office. Her sons graduated from Lakewood High School. She says the difference in the new building is “night and day” compared to the old.

The office is welcoming and easy to find. Security improvements make her feel safer, she said. Where there used to be dozens of exterior doors, the school now can be locked easily, leaving only the main entrance open. It’s also about double the square footage of the previous building, largely because of common areas, open spaces and hallways, Leach said.

Seniors Joshua Lizarraga, 17, and Emily Zenyitko, 18, were part of Cougar Crew, a group of upperclassmen who welcomed freshmen Wednesday morning. The new school is something the community needed, Lizarraga said. Zenyitko feels motivated by the big, modern space.

Their hope for the freshmen they met this week is that the younger students appreciate what they have.

“I hope they respect it and notice they have something brand new right in front of them,” Lizarraga said. “I hope they use it to their advantage.”

The last pieces of the project, including the performing arts center, music rooms and parking, should be done by December.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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