On Nov. 16 and 17, 1949, representatives from the Fort Lewis commanding general’s office testified before the United States House Committee on Education and Labor concerning educational problems. They spoke of local school districts paying for military student education, but not receiving property tax support. In a brief, the commanding general noted that in 1948 Fort Lewis had 706 students and most of them went to the DuPont School. The U.S. Congress listened to these and similar concerns, and in 1950 passed two laws, Public Laws 815 and 874, designed to assist local school districts with construction and other costs of public education impacted by federal defense efforts. The acts made federal funding available to build schools on base and then turn them over to local school districts to operate.
In 1952, construction started on the first Fort Lewis permanent school, Elementary School Number 1 (in 1954 renamed Greenwood), and it opened in September 1953. The prolific school-architecture firm of William Mallis (1883-1954) and Joseph Henry DeHart (1899-1999) used existing plans to build a school with both traditional and modern elements. It had modern-style bands of windows, but old-style hallways and limited connection to the outside environment.
Elementary School Number 2 (renamed Parkway) and Number 3 (renamed Clarkmoor) were designed by architects Charles Lea Jr. (1903-1990), Charles T. Pearson (1905-1994) and John G. Richards (1908-1985) of Tacoma. They employed existing plans to create campus-style buildings. The low, flat-roofed buildings connected to the outside through exterior doors in each classroom. Each classroom had nine four-by-four-foot skydomes to provide light. Within the classrooms were plastic ceilings that diffused the light. The largest share of the federal impact funding for 1956 went to the Clover Park School District: $128,032. In 1958, Fort Lewis had three on-post elementary schools, the annex and the DuPont elementary-junior high school. High school students attended Clover Park High School. The Fort Lewis Chapel provided free bus transportation to a Lakewood parochial school.
Elementary School number 4, Hillside School, was dedicated on Dec. 7, 1959. However, it remained vacant until September 1960 as the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District Number 7 and Clover Park School District fought over jurisdiction. Hillside exhibited an advanced campus style. Lea, Pearson and Richards designed it with 13 classrooms and a capacity of 430 students, kindergarten through fourth grade. It was open to the outdoors with each classroom having a door to the outside and no hallways. The buildings were built around a central courtyard. Everyone had a view of grass or trees and open space. This design reflected a desire that the children be united with the environment. Covered walkways linked the classrooms to the auditorium/gymnasium. The wall of the auditorium facing the courtyard was entirely glass, allowing light and a sense of openness. While the campus style dominated school architecture at this time, it had serious shortcomings, especially in the Pacific Northwest. The covered walkways failed to protect students from the rain. The skydomes leaked, and the auditorium glass created problems. All these features were replaced in a 1984 rehabilitation contract.
McChord Air Force Base was within the Clover Park School District. Its first school, Heartwood Elementary School, opened in November 1960. Tacoma architect Donald Burr (1925-2003) employed plans that he had prepared for another Clover Park school. Heartwood was a cluster design with individual classroom pods. A second school, Carter Lake, opened in January 1962 with space for 420 pupils. Donald Burr used his plans for the Lake Louise School in Lakewood.
The fifth Fort Lewis School, Beachwood, opened on January 22, 1962. The architectural firm of Worthen, Wing, Seibert and Forbes designed it. Donald W. Siefert (1922-1997) was the lead on this project and used existing plans for Beachwood.
15-Year Tug of War
Between School Districts
Fort Lewis had confusing school district boundaries. There was an 1891 state district delineation and a later boundary with Murray Creek as a dividing line between the DuPont-Fort Lewis and Clover Park school districts. The boundaries were best described as helter-skelter. The Murray Creek boundary line was the issue that held up Hillside School’s opening. The DuPont-Fort Lewis School District asserted that the school was in its area while Clover Park also claimed it. A systematic survey and court action over a ten-month period, November 1959 to September 1960, confirmed Clover Park’s jurisdiction. At the same time, demands for a single school district at Fort Lewis were made by various groups. Fort Lewis commanding generals expressed the wish for a single school district that would be more effective. On Aug. 21, 1959, 500 Fort Lewis parents attended a meeting at the Parkway School auditorium to discuss school districting. Coming out of the meeting was a petition signed by 2,524 Fort Lewis residents calling for DuPont-Fort Lewis School District to be the sole district. Others argued for Clover Park, a larger district that could provide a wider range of educational opportunities such as special education. The tug of war continued with court cases and legislative debates.
In 1961, federal impact funds spent in Washington totaled 9.56 million dollars. Nearly 32 percent of that went to the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District. Clover Park was second in funding. Fort Lewis continued to physically support the DuPont School, in 1966 moving a surplus theater building there to be a school theater. Off-post schools with McChord and Fort Lewis students were Lakes High School in Tacoma, Clover Park High School, and Woodbrook Junior High.
In October 1966 the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis went to Vietnam. The families left behind were ordered off-post, reducing by 500 the student population. The DuPont-Fort Lewis School District could not re-adjust its teacher load, and this combined with effects of earlier state readjustments, led to the district becoming bankrupt in 1967. Clover Park assumed its Fort Lewis schools and paid laid-off teachers back wages. In 1968, a proposed merger of the DuPont-Fort Lewis and Clover Park districts was accepted by Clover Park voters but turned down by voters in the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District. In 1970 several Fort Lewis spouses made consolidation their mission. They argued for Clover Park School District control, believing in the greater resources of a larger district. In July 1972, the state legislature passed a law mandating that military reservations in Washington have a single school district. In the case of Fort Lewis, the single school district would either be DuPont-Fort Lewis or Clover Park.
With the passage of Washington’s school district law, a special committee was established to decide between the Clover Park and DuPont-Fort Lewis districts. In February 1973 the Pierce County Committee on School District Reorganization voted 7 to 2 to assign Fort Lewis to Clover Park School District. This ended the 15 year conflict over the Fort Lewis schools.
In 1984 a major renovation of the schools was undertaken. This included replacing the windows and doors. The overhead covered walkways were redesigned. The leaking skydome system was removed and new roofs installed. By the 1990s the campus style was completely out of date, with issues of security and violence in schools forcing rethinking. Parkway School was closed in 1998 and became a noncommissioned officer academy. Heartwood School on McChord was closed in 2004.
In 2011, a national program to fix educational facilities on military installations was approved. High on the list of schools needing immediate action were Carter Lake and Hillside Schools. They were replaced in 2013 on the sites of the original schools. The two new buildings were designed by BCRA Architects employing plans from Lakeview Academy. Planning continued for new Clarkmoor, Greenwood, and Beachwood Schools.