Originally Published: October 12, 2017 6:02 a.m.
Amid the cacophony of construction at the Washington School are the echoes of generations of Prescott children who once transcribed fractions with chalk on a blackboard. They likely recited poetry, and performed dances, on the wooden stage in the now-empty, second-story library.
A week ago Friday, Superintendent Joe Howard offered a tour of the $386,000 project to renovate the more than century-old, red brick school house that ceased to be the state’s longest continuing elementary school in the spring of 2015. The plan is to repurpose classrooms to be suitable as a modern district office complex while retaining its character that dates back to when it was the territorial capital.
Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, Washington School — some still refer to it as “Washington Traditional” although that moniker was dropped about a decade ago — has been home to the district’s tuition-based Discovery Gardens preschool. Now those youngsters and staff will share space with the 20-member district administrative staff and the Family Resource Center located just above the gymnasium.
The renovation project is no-frills, but Howard assures the move will prove an “upgrade for us,” he said.
The current district administration building on South Granite Street is on the market for sale. Two other school properties, the former Dexter Elementary that now houses the Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy and the former Miller Valley Elementary, have sold for a total price of $4.8 million.
District maintenance crews are demolishing walls and ripping up old carpeting so as to refinish the original maple floors. The main staircase with its wooden banisters will be retouched so that it is reminiscent of its glory days. PUSD’s manual labor will trim $100,000 off the final price tag, Howard said.
A chain-link fence that once enclosed the front of the property has been removed; the line of sycamore trees along the front sidewalk are to be preserved. The courtyard is to be converted into a 35-space parking lot with a driveway entrance off East Gurley Street.
The existing front doors will open into what is to be a reception area on the left, with offices off to the right, including one to house the district’s all-volunteer Education Foundation. Preschool space will be separated off with a wall that will enclose an area of conference and meeting areas.
The district was able to do without an elevator by creating similar spaces on the first and second floors, with handicap accessibility and bathrooms, Howard explained.
Grates now around oversized windows in most of the classrooms will be removed, and new, energy-efficient lighting will be installed throughout the facility.
The second-floor classrooms, and the library, are all to be converted into work stations, with Howard’s office to be in the rear of the classroom diagonally across from the stairs with windows that overlook the preschool playground. A former storage area with a large window will be converted into an office.
“It has a killer view of Thumb Butte,” Howard admired.
Architect Michael Taylor’s vision has managed to create a functional, technologically-advanced work space for district officials while keeping the historic beauty that comes with such a structure, including the natural light from the tall, spacious windows that face the downtown.
Renovations in the early 1980s upgraded the electric, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, , as well as removed asbestos and lead paint, again saving the district dollars now, Howard said.
The institutional blue doors upstairs will be repainted a more neutral color so as to properly contrast with the rich look of the original floorboards. Some exterior painting will also be done to spruce up the façade, he said.
Governing Board member Maureen Erickson said she is delighted the district is relocating to this historic school in the heart of downtown, noting it is one of the most iconic structures left in town.
She said she appreciates Howard is being frugal about costs. Yet she has been a voice for making certain these restorations retain the structures’ innate elegance.
To have such a hallowed place of education past, and present, be the district’s centerpiece – matched with a growing pre-school -- is a coup for the community, Erickson said.
“It’s just such a beautiful building,” Erickson said. “I hope it will be done well.”
Howard assures there will be a reverence for these renovations. Expected move-in date for administrators is Feb. 1.
“It’s not going to be the Taj Mahal, but we will be working in a beautiful old school,” he concluded.