BURIEN – In just one day, 370 volunteers upgraded electrical systems, improved accessibility, built an outdoor teaching space and painted walls at St. Bernadette Parish School.
“It was totally overwhelming in a wonderful, wonderful way,” said Principal Eve Ruiz.
The estimated $400,000 of donated renovations to the 58-year-old school were completed October 6 by volunteers from the state chapter of NAIOP, a commercial real estate development association.
Locally, NAIOP’s developers, contractors, designers, brokers and property managers complete one community enhancement project each year, according to Bryce Taylor, incoming chair of the project committee.
Eligible organizations are nonprofits that are growing, family-oriented and demonstrate a need, Taylor said. St. Bernadette’s — with an enrollment of 165 in preschool through eighth grade, including Vietnamese, Filipino and Pacific Islander students — was selected because of its diversity and child-focused work, Taylor said.
Months of planning
Jeanne Flohr, St. Bernadette’s development director, heard about the enhancement project through the Fulcrum Foundation, which helps leverage financial support for Catholic schools in Western Washington.
Through the application process, the school was able to describe its precise needs, Flohr said. So students and school staff were surveyed about potential projects.
Volunteers rake leaves, clear branches, and apply mulch outside of St. Bernadette Parish School. A new outdoor learning area for students and a newly installed fence were part of the renovation projects completed by NAIOP, a commercial real estate development association. Photo: Cathy Wise
St. Bernadette’s was one of five organizations that completed the lengthy application process in 2018, said Daphne Adair NAIOP communications manager. The school was selected in March, and NAIOP representatives spent months working with school officials to choose projects and make plans for the work.
The week before the project day, workers were on campus making preparations and fielding questions from curious students.
“I was just really, really impressed with their kindness they showed every step of the way,” Ruiz said of NAIOP. “They really modeled what we’re teaching at St. Bernadette.”
During the October 6 project blitz, volunteers created a tiered reading area in the school’s library, while in the science classroom, they installed electrical outlet reels in the ceiling and lockable cases for equipment. The changes in the science room improved safety and created more working space, Flohr said.
“The students were very excited about it,” she added.
The volunteers also improved access to the school’s St. Francis garden, in an atrium surrounded by a hallway and classrooms. It had been accessible only through the school’s boiler room, by climbing a ladder and crawling through a window. Workers created a doorway from the hall and installed stairs that provide easier access so the garden can be maintained, Ruiz said.
A new outdoor learning area provides a place where students can complete nature assignments, study botany and release butterflies and ladybugs, Flohr said. It will also serve as a gathering area for parents after dropping off their students or waiting to pick them up, she said.
Students take a break from helping out with renovation projects at St. Bernadette School October 6. Photo: Jeanne Flohr
‘Come back anytime’
Outside the school, volunteers removed trees and installed a new fence between the former convent and the school building. They created a more inviting entryway by improving walkways and painting the school doors a welcoming bright red.
While the bulk of the projects took place October 6, repaving and restriping of the school’s playground and parking lot occurred weeks earlier to take advantage of warmer weather, Taylor said.
“Everybody was super happy with the way things turned out,” he added.
Volunteers didn’t just come from NAIOP — families and parishioners from St. Bernadette also helped with the school renovation effort, Ruiz said.
“They created a lot of projects families could work on together,” she said.
At the end of the day, most of the projects that were on the list were complete. New cubbies (replacing metal lockers) for middle-school students will soon be installed. Some benches for the outdoor learning area need staining and some painting projects remain, but students or volunteers could complete those as service projects, Ruiz said.
Having so many projects completed in one day was exciting, Ruiz said, and she’d like to work with NAIOP again. “They can come back anytime.”