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5:27 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Oldest school in Arizona gets a major makeover

Prescott’s Washington School gets touch of the new, while respecting its past

Superintendent Joe Howard walks down the main staircase at the former Washington Traditional School that will soon become the Prescott Unified School District offices. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Superintendent Joe Howard walks down the main staircase at the former Washington Traditional School that will soon become the Prescott Unified School District offices. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

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The entry way at the former Washington Traditional School that will soon become the Prescott Unified School District offices. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

More than a century after the Washington School opened its doors to pioneer children ready to learn how to read, write and perform arithmetic, the two-story downtown brick structure has a new look.

Thanks to a renovation of close to $400,000, the beloved, historic school will become a district show piece, a hub of learning and administration, according to Prescott Unified School District leaders.

With work nearing completion, the oldest school and one-time territorial capitol will soon be the district’s headquarters. Plans are for the district’s 25-member staff to relocate to the building in March, with a grand opening ceremony on May 1.

Since closing the school in 2015, the red-brick building on East Gurley Street has been home to the district’s 153-student Discovery Gardens preschool. The preschool will now have two classrooms on the east side of the first floor, with the bulk of the school operation relocated toward the rear annex.

In a separate project, workers are refurbishing the school’s rear playground. A handicap-accessible walkway was also installed as part of the district renovation for the front lawn/play space.

The district’s Family Resource Center relocated this fall to an office just above the gymnasium.

The wooden staircase off the main entrance that bore the footsteps of thousands of running children in its heyday is now roped off. Construction crews from Axiom Construction in Kingman will install a neutral-colored carpet on the steps. The cost of repairing and restoring the original wood planks was deemed too pricey. The banister’s maple grain has been refinished, so it now sports a smooth gloss.

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Superintendent Joe Howard poses on the fire escape at the former Washington Traditional School that will soon become the Prescott Unified School District offices. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Dark maple floors throughout the building have been refinished, so they now are almost blonde, the lighter appearance blending with the freshly painted sage green walls. A few interior walls have been painted either a bright white or a medium charcoal gray.

No more garish blue doors and no more grates over the glass pane windows.

“There’s not a ton of two-story buildings in Prescott, so there are pretty neat views wherever you look,” said District Superintendent Joe Howard as he admired the view of Thumb Butte from what will be one of his colleagues’ office window.

“This looks real nice. It’s amazing,” declared Tina Seeley, vice-president of the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board as she toured the east side of the second floor.

Howard showed Seeley how the one-time, second-floor library has been converted into an airy, conference room with the one-time stage now walled off to make space for the district’s Grants Department. In the hallway, two bathrooms have been installed.

“They’ve done a great job,” Seeley said of the crews from Axiom Construction from Kingman. District facility maintenance crews also did much of the demolition work early in the job that started in the fall.

“I think it’s beautiful.”

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A former classromm will become offices at the former Washington Traditional School that will soon become the Prescott Unified School District offices. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Construction manager Gary Chartier -- whose wife, Amanda, is a Prescott High School art teacher and whose mother-in-law, Patty Rummage, once taught in this building -- said this has proved to be a “cool” project.

In one of the new office spaces, the crews found some old blackboards with writing still on the boards.

“There is a lot of history in these walls,” Chartier said.

On a tour of the upstairs, Howard pointed to his far west corner office. The view from his windows will be of Prescott High School in the distance and the Discovery Gardens playground up close.

He said those two sights everyday will serve as a constant reminder of why he and the rest of the staff come to work every day.

“The work we’re doing here is for them – for the next 13 years,” Howard said. “We have to create problem solvers who will be versatile enough to figure out who they need to be in their communities and in the world.”