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On the day before her 100th birthday, Arlott Brent Burkhart received a special present: a front row seat to the Wednesday afternoon Wallace Elementary School groundbreaking ceremony.

The ceremony marked the beginning on construction for the third Wallace building since the first school opened in 1912. Burkhart attended school in the original, wooden building in the 1920s. She later served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and worked in the Pentagon for a number of years.

“It was a great little school then, and it still is great,” Burkhart recalled Wednesday. Current students, which including her great great grandniece and kindergartener Gacelyn Atkins, “really deserve” the new school.

The Kelso School District is building a two-story school just south of the current Wallace building with a $98.6 million bond measure. It will replace the current school, which was built in 1942 and remodeled in 1984.

“Schools don’t get built very often, so this is a big deal,” Wallace Principal Ray Cattin told students during the groundbreaking ceremony.

The first Wallace school had just four classrooms, two teachers and 60 students when it opened, Cattin said. It grew steadily in the its first two decades, and classrooms were added in 1923 and 1926.

When Burkhart attended in the late 1920s, “it was just a small building … and there was no playground,” she said. “We just played in the street, more or less.”

As the student population grew, and the district replaced the original school with a new building in the early 1940s. That building cost $120,000, Cattin said.

The new school, which is slated to open the fall of 2021, will cost about $37 million, said district Finance Director Scott Westlund. It will be a 55,000-square-foot building with room enough for 450 students.

Another Wallace alumna and a long-time teacher at the school, Jacquilyn (Jackie) Hardwick, 80, said she was “just thrilled” to know the students are getting a “state-of-the-art” school.

Hardwick attended Wallace in 1945 and later returned to the school as a special education teacher. She taught there for 38 years before retiring in 2012.

“It will certainly improve the neighborhood and give the people something to be proud of,” Hardwick said. She added that she “wouldn’t have missed this (groundbreaking ceremony) for the world.”

Cattin noted Wallace students past and present have a “strong sense of community and belonging” with Wallace.

“Because Wallace is both geographically and figuratively the heart of South Kelso, it is the epitome of a neighborhood school. … I love the history and tradition of this school,” Cattin said.

About 25,000 students have gone through the existing Wallace School, Westlund said. “We hope that with this new school there will be 25,000 more.”

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