For more than 40 years, Pierce College has been committed to helping people realize their possibilities. It is no surprise then that Pierce College’s own story is one of transforming humble ideas into ambitious possibilities.
Pierce College first opened in 1967 in an abandoned Albertson’s grocery store in downtown Lakewood. The store was converted into administrative offices, a library, and classrooms. The 1,500 students enrolled took classes at the so-called “Albertson’s U,” as well as at high schools around the county, and at special sites established at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord).
The first graduation ceremony was held June 7, 1968, at a Lakewood area high school. Seven students earned associate’s degrees and 200 more graduated from the college’s Adult High School program. This success sparked a transition in governance from a local school district, which initially formed the college, to the Washington State Association of Community Colleges. A new board of trustees was chosen and one of its first orders of business was a name change. Originally known as Clover Park Community College, it then became Fort Steilacoom Community College and a new permanent campus was established on 135 acres overlooking Fort Steilacoom Park and Waughop Lake.
The first classes at the new site were held in portable buildings in 1970. Students watched as the permanent campus was built around them and the formerly barren hilltop was transformed. In 1974, the main campus building was completed. The Oppelt Student Center followed two years later. The Olympic Building, with its art, music and early childhood education programs, opened a year after that, in 1977.
As the Fort Steilacoom campus took shape during this time, other sites were welcoming students. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Pierce had a continuing education program at Rainier School in Buckley, as well as an extension campus at Western State Hospital, a literacy education center for inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Olympia, an education center at McNeil Island Correction Center, and a campus in Puyallup.
To reflect this growth beyond the immediate Lakewood area, the board of trustees in 1986 rededicated the college as Pierce College, designating the two main campuses as Pierce College Fort Steilacoom and Pierce College Puyallup.
A year later, in 1987, the college’s expansion focus shifted from Fort Steilacoom to Puyallup with the purchase of 85 acres near South Hill. The first permanent campus building, the Gaspard Education Center, was dedicated in 1990. The campus continued to grow and was recognized by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges in 1999 as the state’s 34th community college and the second college in Pierce College District 11.
As both campuses experienced growth in programs and enrollment in the 1990s, the Fort Steilacoom campus saw a second wave of expansion. The Sunrise building, which featured classrooms and a computer lab, opened in 1998; it was the first new building on that campus in more than 20 years. It was followed by the dedication of the Olympic Technology Building in 2002.
Also during this time, both campuses benefited from the hard work of the Pierce College Foundation, which, in 2004, launched its Campaign for Childcare to raise funds for new childcare centers at each campus. Those centers, the Garnero Child Development Center in Puyallup and the Milgard Child Development Center in Fort Steilacoom, opened in 2007.
That same year, the Fort Steilacoom campus opened the Health Education Center. This facility provides classrooms for health and wellness education, as well as a 16,000-square-foot gym, fitness facilities, administrative offices, and an expanded lobby area for social events. This impressive facility also serves as the home court for Raider athletics teams, the first in the college’s history.
The newest building on campus, the Rainier Science and Technology Building, opened in 2010 with classrooms, science and math labs, faculty offices, and two wintergardens (plant-filled glass atriums). This eco-friendly building earned a gold rating based on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, allowing the building itself to be part of the college’s curriculum and increased focus on environmental sustainability.
Pierce College Puyallup also continued its expansion. In 2004, the campus dedicated its second building, the College Center, which featured a cafeteria, bookstore, café, and classrooms. A year later, in 2005, a second facility in Puyallup, the South Hill Park site, opened to offer additional continuing education, workforce development, WorkFirst, and PierceWorks opportunities.
The Health Education Center, similar to the one at the Fort Steilacoom campus, opened in 2008. The Arts and Allied Health Building, complete with a theater, art gallery, recording studio, and nursing skills and graphic labs, followed in 2010. It also received gold certification by LEED for environmental stewardship and sustainability.
While the buildings and programs have changed for Pierce College, its commitment to helping students realize their possibilities has remained constant, earning it a powerful reputation around the country. This commitment will continue to push Pierce College far into its future.