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J.J. Smith Elementary celebrates 'closing' house

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

It was called a "closing" house.

Generations of Enumclaw teachers, administrators and students turned out Thursday afternoon to bid farewell to J.J. Smith Elementary School.

Earlier in the year, citing declining enrollment and an opportunity to implement its long-awaited kindergarten through fifth-grade program, the Enumclaw School District announced it would close the nearly 50-year-old elementary school to student use. The Enumclaw School Board made it official at a May 31 special board meeting.

"It's like saying goodbye to a part of me. It's sad, but it's OK," said Margie Madison, who taught at J.J. Smith from 1970 to 2003, at Thursday's event.

Madison was among many who gathered to look at photographs and catch up with friends.

Mike Binetti was there. He taught at J.J. Smith for 15 years and then was principal another 15 years - all between the years 1951 and 1981. He was a teacher when the current building was built around the three-story former building and then torn down.

He claims to have every class picture from the old building, along with "letters" and "good wishes" from students and parents from those days.

His daughter Rose Leggett, who was a J.J. Smith student and today a teacher in the district, also attended.

Betty Anderson, 91, was there. She taught fifth grade from 1961 to 1977. Her great-grandson Jordan DeVore now has Jody Emerson for a fifth grade teacher; it's the same room in which his grandmother taught his teacher.

Emerson was poring over a photograph with classmate Sylvia McDougall. They attended in the late 1960s.

Many others dropped in. It was a steady stream of community members past 6 p.m.

The big question for some in attendance was, "What is the district going to do with the building?"

The school board discussed its options at its May 31 meeting, but has no answers.

The only interest in renting the building has come from two preschool groups, who only need a limited amount of space.

The district estimates it would cost more than $500,000 to demolish the building.

And the administration, which at one time considered occupying the building, has nixed those plans.

"The only reason we suggested moving the offices there was not out of need or expansion, but to keep a live body in the building," Superintendent Art Jarvis said.

The district has no need to relocate and the one-time costs to upgrade it would not be cost effective.

District officials outlined other information for the board at the meeting like enrollment figures for the fall. Those figures look like this: Black Diamond Elementary, 259, Kibler Elementary, 479, Southwood Elementary, 390, Sunrise Elementary, 332, and Westwood Elementary, 373.

Those numbers will likely mean additional kindergarten classrooms at Sunrise, Kibler and Black Diamond, and two fourth-grade classes at Sunrise.

For the first time in many years, May kindergarten numbers are up to 270. Last year at the same time those numbers were 222. Administrators believe changes in the elementary school configuration prompted parents and guardians with incoming kindergartners to register early. Typically, many wait to register until August.

Administrators also have already accepted 25 elementary students to transfer into the district, with 11 more pending.

Fifteen students have been released from the Enumclaw district to attend school elsewhere.

Jarvis said the elementary schools should handle growth for the next six years or more.

According to the information update, there have been no certificated layoffs and of the 14 J.J. Smith classified employees laid off, eight have been placed. But district officials noted, there would be fewer employees still on lay-off in September than there have been in the past three years.

District officials are also working with the city to improve the bus zone and parking area at Kibler. There is also discussion regarding the playground.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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