Suzanne Buchholz, Reporter
The Pierce College Puyallup campus is almost always buzzing with activity, with students moving quickly from one class to another, stopping in at the cafeteria for some food or hanging out in the courtyard with friends. It’s a scene many students are accustomed to after seeing it every day. But what they might not realize is that the campus didn’t always look like this. Until 1990, it didn’t even exist.
Pierce College, originally known as Fort Steilacoom Community College, had only one campus in Lakewood that officially opened in 1974. Pierce College District Chancellor Michele Johnson, who has been working for the college since 1978, said the college rented space in an old real estate office on 112th Street in Puyallup to serve students in that area as well. The school wasn’t called Pierce College until 1986, when land was purchased to build the Puyallup campus and the school decided it needed a name that’d encompass all students in the district.
“At that time we changed the name of the college to Pierce College because it was really clear that Fort Steilacoom was that designation, that historical site,” Johnson said. “(But) we were still a single college.”
The first building to open on the Puyallup campus was the Gaspard Administration Building in 1990. The classrooms, administrative services and cafe were all in one building, and left little room for additional services, Johnson said. The college was also renting classrooms in the local high schools and middle school for science classes, which meant many of these classes could only be taught in the evenings when school wasn’t in session. This changed in 1996, when the Brouillet Library/Science Building opened. With this new building, science classes could be taught on the campus, and students would have access to a library and computers.
Director of District Athletics Duncan Stevenson, who has been working at Pierce College since 1985 when he was the food service manager, said he’s been amazed at the development on the Puyallup campus. Stevenson said he’s attended every groundbreaking of the buildings and has seen the positive impact of the changes.
“The actual purchase of the property and the development of the campus has been huge,” Stevenson said. “I think the college has been fairly methodical about dividing the services with what students have needed. You can’t just build a college so they’ve had to progress building by building and expand the services as space has allowed.”
As the college expanded and more buildings were added to the campus, the administration building became the main building for student services such as registration, testing, counseling and financial aid. Classes were held in the classrooms in the new buildings, and when the College Center opened, students were able to buy food from the cafeteria in this building. The cafe that had been in the administration building had been turned into the chancellor’s office at this point.
While Johnson said the expansion was a benefit to the students, she noted that the growth had a disadvantage as well. When the college only had one building, students and employees on the campus were able to see each other on a daily basis and get to know the students on a more personal level. Now, with many of the services divided among the buildings and the classrooms separated from the student services, the employees aren’t as close to the students or each other as they had been before, Johnson said.
“If there was any downside, (it’s that) people who have been here a long time may feel less connected,” Johnson said. “They don’t feel quite as tight-knit yet. Not everyone gets to see each other and it’s much more complex. Everybody doesn’t know everybody. I think that always happens with growth and so that would be sort of a negative side.”
The Puyallup campus could expand even more, as Johnson said that the employees have put in a proposal for a new building to accommodate more science, engineering and mathematics programs. She also hopes to address the parking congestion on campus. Stevenson said he’d like to see some expansion of the sports fields.
Stevenson said he believes all of the changes to the college have been great for the students in terms of helping them succeed and having easier access to what they need.
He said he was glad to have the opportunity to be at Pierce to see all of these changes.
“To be able to be in one place for as long as I have been, I never thought that I would be working at one college or even one job for as long as I have,” Stevenson said. “To be able to be around for the growth of the college in both campuses in the district as a whole experience has been pretty special.”
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