New building opens for Upper School boys


Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards cuts the ribbons, representing Annie Wright’s four tie colors, officially opening the new Upper School for Boys building.

YoungSeo Jo and Sebastian Bush

In a pivotal  moment for Annie Wright Schools and the two-year-old Upper School for Boys program, the community celebrated the official opening of the boys’ new academic building on September 6, 2019, with Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards officiating.

The decisions to establish an Upper School for Boys and to construct a new building were finalized at the end of 2016 and officially announced in January 2017. Construction began the summer of 2018, and today, roughly 14 months later, the building celebrated its official opening. 

The original program consisted of 16 boys in a space in downtown Tacoma. “In 9th grade, the sixteen of us had rented rooms downtown with two and a half room in the attic of the (main) building,” said Carter Nelson, an 11th Grader who has been here since preschool. “We just figured it out, played it by ear and used what we had to make up the best we could. Despite having no permanent space, the experience we were given was like no other you could find.”

Since then, the school has expanded. The school now has 59 students, over a dozen teachers, and the new academic building. “This year we are entering our new building, I think I can speak for everyone when I say it is the perfect learning environment,” said Nelson. 

Nina Doody, House Speaker of the Upper School for Girls, spoke about supporting the Upper School for Boys.  “I was all for the idea because it simply made sense. I didn’t see why we couldn’t educate the boys in the Upper School since they were welcomed into the lower school and the middle school,” she said.  “It naturally made sense for boys to continue their education with Annie Wright Schools through high school.” 

Christian Sullivan, Head of Annie Wright Schools, spoke about what the new building represents. “Yes, we are all here to celebrate the opening, but it is not actually about the bricks and mortar,” he said. “In the end, it’s about the student experience and our further hope that the lives they lead will be upright and productive.”

Sullivan thanked the people involved in the process during the opening speech: the Absher Construction Co., Mithun architectural firm, long-time community partner Columbia Bank, the donors who raised over $25 million in over five years for a variety of projects and the endowment, and the city of Tacoma.

He especially expressed gratitude towards the families that entrusted their children into the newly established program. “There was a risk, there was no program, there certainly was no building, but there was a promise, a promise from Susan Bauska and me that during the last two years for the yellow ties, there would be a building,” he said.

Dr. Michele Cannon Bessler, Chair of the Board, commented on the growth of the Upper School for Boys along with the rest of Annie Wright Schools “We worked carefully to consider, philosophically and practically, the notion of educating high school boys,” she said. “We serve Tacoma, and it has been a compelling story to watch Annie Wright Schools along work Tacoma grow together from strength to strength.”

Victoria Woodards, Mayor of Tacoma, spoke at the opening ceremony to celebrate this occasion with the rest of the Tacoma community. “This school is really about community. We have public schools in Tacoma that do an amazing job educating our young people, but we also have private schools, like Annie Wright, who offer a different kind of education,” she said. “When we talk about what makes Tacoma so successful, it’s the fact that we have something for everyone, so that no matter what the need is for your child, you can get that education in Tacoma.”

Woodards expressed gratitude for the community formed around Annie Wright. “More people will be looking at Tacoma and people will consider Tacoma as their home because of places like Annie Wright… So again, I am extremely grateful for the community that you have raised, not just on this campus but on this city.” 

Mayor Woodards had the whole school count down with her as she cut the ribbons marking the opening of the new building.

Although the new building is primarily for Upper School boys’ academics, some spaces, including the Idea Lab, the Atrium and the Inkwell newsroom are available to the community.