Community group working to save “Space Needle of Parkland”

May 19, 2023, 8:06 AM | Updated: 8:57 am

When the old Parkland School in Pierce County was threatened with demolition last year, community m...

When the old Parkland School in Pierce County was threatened with demolition last year, community members swung into action and managed to convince the owner to sell it to them instead. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

When the old Parkland School in Pierce County was threatened with demolition last year, community members swung into action and managed to convince the owner to sell it to them instead. While they still have a lot of money to raise to officially make the purchase, the group is celebrating Parkland School’s 115th birthday this weekend and looking ahead to the future of the community landmark.

Last year, it was revealed that Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), a private college in Parkland east of Tacoma, was getting ready to demolish the old 1908 Parkland School. PLU had owned the school and grounds for several decades, and they wanted to sell the property to a developer who had plans to build an apartment complex at the site.

That’s when a group of Parkland residents got involved. They love the old school. Many residents, parents, and grandparents attended or taught at Parkland School. They organized. They showed up at big public meetings and ultimately got the Pierce County Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission to deny PLU’s request for a demolition permit.

Why do Parkland people care so much about this old building, which hasn’t served as a school for decades?

Phil Edlund is with the Parkland Community Association’s Save Parkland School project.

Edlund’s answer to that question is like that old real estate cliché: “Location, location, location!” – but with one more priceless element: “Community, community, community!”

“It sits right in the heart of the community, right near the Main Street area of the business district, and is the identifying landmark when people get off of Highway 512 on Pacific Avenue [which is also known as] State Route 7,” Edlund told KIRO Newsradio. “When they see the building, they’ve always expressed a sense of, ‘I know I’ve arrived in Parkland when I see Parkland School.”

Listening to Edlund, it sounds as if Parkland School is that community’s Space Needle – a highly visible iconic structure that says, without spelling it out on a sign, “Welcome to Parkland.”

To the Parkland group’s credit and to PLU’s as well, the parties involved moved past the demolition battle and reached a truce. Then, PLU agreed to split off the school building from the larger parcel of land. They’ll still sell most of the real estate to a developer for apartments, but they’ll sell the school to the Parkland Community Association for about $3 million.

But that’s only part of the good news. The Parkland School advocates have kept busy for the past year, generating more support and getting professional help with the historic preservation and building renovation aspect of the project.

“We’ve been awarded planning and assessment grants from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and also from the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” Edlund said. “We received an initial assessment of the building from a regional historic preservation developer . . . . and also a professional assessment and feasibility report . . . and we’re currently under contract with Northwest Vernacular to complete a comprehensive historic preservation and planning report.”

“We’ve also engaged our local lawmakers, both at the county level . . . and the state level . . . to build support for this in the state capital budget,” Edlund continued.

Edlund said this effort isn’t just about nostalgia for a beloved old building; the ultimate goal is to create something Parkland desperately needs: a place for the community to gather.

“Whether it’s children in after-school activities, whether it’s sports or homework tutoring, or for adults or for arts activities on the stage,” Edlund said, “This is intended to be a place that serves people who live and work in and around Parkland.”

The community event will take place Saturday, May 20, from noon to 3:00 p.m. at Keithley Middle School in Parkland.

Edlund said there are two things on the agenda.

One is to celebrate Parkland School’s 115th birthday with food, games, and other activities for all ages. The other is to kick off the community phase of the fundraising campaign and get people’s ideas about what they want to see happen with the old school in its future role as a community center for Parkland.

On that critical fundraising part, the group has a little more than five months to raise $2.85 million. The deadline for the purchase and sale agreement with PLU is November 3. The Parkland Community Association will likely get some public dollars from the State of Washington, but the campaign will also rely on the generosity of individuals and private foundations.

For more information about the event or to contribute to the campaign, click here.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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