Long-awaited changes are coming to Washington Middle School.
The 5.1-acre campus at the edge of District 1 will undergo a massive transformation beginning in the summer of 2024 that will close the school for three years.
Students will be relocated to Butler Middle School, 2 miles away, until construction ends before the start of the 2027-2028 school year.
At a community meeting last week to showcase the tentative plans, few parents were in attendance, but those that were raised concerns over safe alternate transportation to and from Butler, traffic safety around Washington and the impact that the school closure might have on the various youth programs or community groups that use its facilities.
And while the project is still in the planning phase, officials assured parents that their concerns would be considered as they developed more concrete plans that they will present this fall.
The $175 million project is being funded by Measure Q, the $1.7 billion bond measure to help modernize Long Beach Unified School District schools that was passed last year, and includes major upgrades to the old campus.
The idea for the upgrade sprouted as Washington awaited new air conditioning units along with dozens of other LBUSD schools.
“What we noticed as it started becoming Washington’s turn for air conditioning, we actually realized that … this school actually needs more,” said David Miranda, executive director of facilities development and planning for the LBUSD. “The school and the program and the buildings and infrastructure are telling us something. They’re telling us you should slow down actually, and perhaps look at a deeper, larger project.”
The scope of the proposed project includes the complete demolition of four aging buildings — the auditorium, cafeteria, gymnasium and science building — to be replaced by three new buildings, including a new gym, a two-story classroom building equipped with high tech spaces for specialty programs like robotics and and a “cafetorium,” a multi-use building that can be transformed from the cafeteria into the auditorium and music room when needed.
The renovation plans presented last week also include a new, all-weather field, underground parking, a media center in the library and an expanded courtyard that will add shaded seating, green areas and spaces for outdoor learning.
The historic 1930s architecture of the administration building will be preserved, and the building will be expanded to make space for bigger classrooms.
Given the size of Washington, which serves about 1,000 students, consolidation was necessary in order to ensure it will have the same amenities as other LBUSD campuses. “We needed to build up,” said Miranda.
School safety will also be a priority, with added safety measures like perimeter fencing, a single point of entry, more cameras and electronic door locks.
One of the biggest concerns among parents was finding alternate transportation to and from the new school. For now, officials say, all students would have the option of being dropped off at Washington Middle School and bused over to Butler.
“We’re not going to put the burden on parents to get their kids to those schools on their own,” said Miranda.
While drop-off and pick-up can often be hectic, Miranda added that traffic consultants are currently evaluating traffic patterns to find the safest areas to do so, and students will be offered attendance incentives to ensure they are getting to school on time.
Sometime next summer, parents and students will get the chance to ride the new bus route and see the Butler campus, which will also be improved with new lighting and flooring before students arrive.
“Are the buses going to have security in case of fights?” asked Amayrani Vasquez, 18, a student at Long Beach City College who has two cousins at Washington. Vasquez is concerned that the increased number of students on the school buses will cause anxiety.
Doug Jordan, Measure E liaison for LBUSD facilities development and planning, said school buses don’t have a safety officer on board, and it is the responsibility of the bus driver to ensure students are riding the bus safely every morning.
Given the short bus ride to Butler, Jordan assured that “we should be able to do a very efficient, good job in getting the buses loaded and then just getting back over here and dropping the kids off and back into the community safely.”
Celia McGill, a Washington neighborhood resident, shared concerns about the various youth programs that use the school’s gym, like Books & Buckets, a youth basketball academy that nurtures academic development in the neighborhood.
“Books & Buckets has used the gym for the past three years,” McGill said. “What are you doing to ensure that they have a good gym for programming?”
Miranda said school officials are currently taking stock of the athletic programs, enrichment programs and after school programs that use Washington as a meeting place in the community to ensure that they can be accommodated at Butler or even have access to facilities at other LBUSD campuses.
Jesus Esparza, president of the Washington Neighborhood Association, also questioned whether the school would preserve the murals around the perimeter of the campus, which were made by the community. Some are currently painted on buildings that are slated for demolition, but Miranda said a historical consultant will evaluate the significance of elements around campus like the murals.
All in all, school officials said the concerns raised would be addressed by the time they present their final plans in the fall.
Alejandra Lujan, a parent of three students who’ve gone to Washington, said that she’s been advocating for improvements for years, often sitting in meetings in the auditorium where the heat was unbearable because of the lack of air conditioning.
“We’ve fought so hard for this,” Lujan said, “so thank God it’s actually happening.”