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The Old Firgrove School History & Preservation

By Carl Vest

The most historic public service building on South Hill is located on the Firgrove Elementary School campus at 13918 South Meridian Avenue, approximately six miles south of Puyallup.  Specifically it’s the brick structure at the south end of the site.  At one time this building was the only edifice situated there and for decades was just known as the Firgrove School.  The building should be considered historic for two reasons:  first, the date when it was built and secondly, the many years of use as an educational facility for generations of Hill families.

The brick building is now known as the Old Firgrove School to distinguish it from the complex of buildings that now make-up the modern campus.  It dates from the 1930s and was dedicated on Friday, September 26, 1935. The facility was constructed on a five-acre tract at a cost of $11,600, plus an additional $5,000 to prepare the grounds.  In terms of present values, $11,600 would be about $205,000 in 2016 dollars. The building was modified in 1961 and again in the 1970s.  Originally it had three instructional rooms --- two classrooms and an auditorium.  Additionally, there were some small offices.  The architect was E. J. Breseman and the builders were Dudley Gunston and Richard Smith.

The construction was financed using several different sources of money.  Federal and Washington State agencies granted just over half of what was needed.  The school district appropriated $4,500.  Importantly, in the 1930s the Firgrove School District was a local independent educational organization and this action illustrated that the local citizens would tax themselves in order to have the benefit of a new school building.  Firgrove did not become a part of the Puyallup School District until the 1950s.

For the past 81 years Firgrove has been a “Pillar of South Hill” to quote Heather Meier, who wrote about the school in 2010 --- she was the editor of the Puyallup Herald at the time. Thousands of local children have received their basic education within this facility.  The names and numbers of the school’s alumni illustrate both who the local citizens were on a year-to-year basis, and the tremendous population growth experienced over time on South Hill.

The school has been the focus of community support since it was opened.  The Parent Teacher’s Association (PTA) has been active in all phases of its operation, furnishing room mothers and sponsoring activities for students for special holidays and birthdays.  Many older ladies still living on the Hill speak fondly of their work with the school and its children. 

Currently the future of this well-built and still serviceable historic structure is being debated.  The Puyallup School District has underway an effort aimed at redoing the Firgrove campus.  Under discussion are a number of concepts.  Some require that the current buildings be destroyed and the campus moved and recreated in a new configuration.  However, historic preservation is one criteria being used in the decision making and appears to favor keeping the Old Firgrove School.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.

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