Tacoma Public Schools begins sale of Gault Middle School

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The former Gault Middle School site has been a nuisance to the Eastside neighborhood for more than a decade, but a developer plans to turn the historic property into an urban village with housing.

The 7.3-acre school campus at 1115 E. Division Lane closed in 2009 and attracted vandalism, litter, and property damage while it was vacant. Last month, a fire broke out at the school that caused superficial damage to the front desk, according to Tacoma Public Schools Director of Strategic Planning Alicia Lawver.

On Thursday, the Tacoma Public Schools Board approved the start of negotiations to sell Gault Middle School to Chaffey Building Group, a Kirkland development company. Chaffey was chosen from three proposals to buy and redevelop the property. Proposals had to include the reuse of the original structure.

Chaffey plans to create an urban infill project centered on the adaptive reuse and restoration of the historic Gault building. The project will consist of 195-230 labor and mixed-rate units, with over 50 of these units in the original 1926 structure, 80-100 units in an additional mid-rise apartment complex and 65-80 townhouses for sale. with closed garages. The developer also proposed an urban village to include cafes, a small gym, restaurant, bar and possibly a small grocery store. There will be public green space for community gatherings, according to the proposal. The developers also plan to list the property on the National Register of Historic Places and the Tacoma Historic Register.

Chaffey Building Group’s proposal was recommended to council because of the developer’s qualifications, feasibility of the plan and community utility. The proposal was voted most favorable during the public comment period.

Chaffey’s proposal received endorsement from many who spoke in a public hearing at the Tacoma Public Schools Board meeting.

Anna Lieck lives across from Gault Middle School.

“Over the past few years, the bizarre activity surrounding the school and the condition of the building itself has become an unwelcome example of neglect in our neighborhood,” she said. “The building deserves to be preserved and the neighborhood deserves to benefit from these changes.”

Lieck said Chaffey provided thoughtful responses to neighbor concerns, such as parking.

Tacoma Deputy Mayor Catherine Ushka, who lives and represents the neighborhood, said the property is a challenge for anyone who has lived there for at least a decade.

“I’ve watched over this issue more nightly than any other issue, just like a resident for the past 20 years,” Ushka said. “I can’t wait to see how we move forward.”

Ushka said she will work to ensure the project crosses the finish line to provide “a tremendous asset to the community”.

Lynette Scheidt, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Council, said the neighborhood deserves more than it has endured over the years, such as criminal activity. Scheidt believes the Eastside neighborhood will thrive with development.

Lucas Nelta, a neighbor of Gault, said the property gradually deteriorated and ‘became the general public nuisance it is today’ which has prevented residents from finding the peace and quiet they deserve. in their own homes.

“I look forward to seeing any effort that will simply remedy this public nuisance,” Nelta said.

Evan Smith, policy and government relations coordinator for the Pierce County Health Department, said at the public hearing that the poverty rate in the McKinley Hill neighborhood is twice as high as in the city, and according to the University of California, Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, he determined the neighborhood has one of the highest eviction rates in the nation.

“This is a unique opportunity to dedicate excess public land to help those most affected by housing instability in our neighborhood,” Smith said.

Kelly Lawrence, CEO and Chairman of Chaffey Building Group, said the company is locally connected, civic and financially capable of undertaking the redevelopment.

“We know that you have all tried to find a partner dedicated to serving our community, and we are confident in our proposal to provide essential housing and amenities in a historically underserved neighborhood and to rehabilitate and give back to the school an advantage. for the surrounding community,” Lawrence said.

Board Director Chelsea McElroy, Position 4, said as a child, she and her mother provided dinner for families at Gault Middle School as part of the Family in School Together program, and some members of her family graduated from school. Her family was sad to see it close, she said.

McElroy said she liked the grocery store concept in the development plan because the neighborhood has been a food wasteland for decades.

“It really touched me as a kid serving dinner to other kids and knowing now that there will be access to food in the Eastside available for neighbors, people can walk around there” , she said. “(It) is really going to change a lot of lives.”

Over the next month, the TPS will negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with the developer, and the board will give final approval to the deal at its August meeting.

Allen Siegler contributed to this report.

Liz Moomey covers the city of Tacoma for The News Tribune. She was previously a member of the Report For America corps covering eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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