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Final high school design proposal unveiled

A compactly designed proposed high school, centered around a courtyard allowing natural light into classrooms, was unveiled to the final meeting of a master planning committee May 3.

Architects were also able to fit all the requested sports fields on the 29-acre property at West 10th and Chenowith Loop.

They weren’t able to align the football field next to the high school to allow second-story access to the press box as hoped, because doing so took up too much space.

The parcel, which now includes Wahtonka Community School and Chenowith Elementary, can accommodate two baseball fields, a softball field, the football field surrounded by an eight-lane track that can host regional meets, a soccer field, a practice field and four tennis courts.

Part of the fields would not be built until Chenowith is relocated.

North Wasco County School District 21 is considering asking voters in November to pass a 50-year bonding authority allowing it to levy $235 million in bonds in five increments over 20 years, with repayment for each over 30 years.

The money would replace the high school and all three elementaries, make interim improvements to the other schools while they await replacement, and, finally, make upgrades to the middle school.

The district will do polling in late May or early June, and if it shows the vote would pass, the school board will put it on the November ballot.

The existing schools are old, lacking safety features, expensive to maintain and heat, lack air conditioning, and are unsuited to modern learning, officials say. New schools would be designed to rectify all those problems, they said.

The high school master planning committee, which met four times, will present the final drawing to the school board later and ask the board to move forward with it.

Richard Higgins, principal of BLRB Architects, who facilitated the committee meeting, said it is “very powerful” when a community group goes to a school board with its endorsement of a proposal.

The high school cost is estimated at $75-80 million. The first bond issue would be for $88 million, with $80 million for a high school and $8 million to do work on elementary schools.

When asked how that number was arrived at, District Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson said, “It actually wasn’t all that scientific.”

He roughed out the cost by multiplying the square footage of the school, which is 160,000, by a $500 per square foot building cost, for an $80 million total. The architecture firm helped him generate the estimate. Current hard costs for construction are $330 per square foot, Higgins said, but that doesn’t include soft costs.

The $500 per square foot cost includes wiggle room because no engineering drawings are done. A school official earlier told a town hall meeting it is “very likely” the tax rate for the bond will not need to be as high as the

maximum $2.99 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation that the bond authorization would seek.

Dakotah Schattler, a designer with BLRB Architects, said the district was asking for a lot of sports fields on one space and “It’s honestly pushed to the limits.”

He said it wasn’t all that common to have so many fields on one campus. The fields are aligned so the sun isn’t directly in the athlete’s eyes, he said.

The school layout is “very, very compact,” said Higgins. That is a benefit to students as they pass between classes.

Also, compactness matters for money reasons because “square footage is dollars and cents,” he said.

The proposed school is only slightly larger than the current one, which is 153,000 square feet, but with more efficient design, it can accommodate about 1,000 students compared to the 800 now at the high school.

The design includes a courtyard, which is the center of the school, Higgins said. It is surrounded on two opposite sides by two stories of classrooms, and by the glass-walled cafeteria/commons and a glass-walled hallway on the other two sides.

“We really developed this courtyard into something we think can be really special,” said Higgins.

The courtyard’s real function is to allow daylight into classrooms. Many studies show natural light into instructional space improves student performance, he said.

The school design features a front entrance covered by a prominent canopy, so people can easily recognize where to enter. The gym is immediately to the right and the auditorium to the left, making access to public events easier. The front corners of the gym and auditorium are glass.

The exterior is warm, buff-colored brick and some glass walls, Higgins said. But, he added, “There’s a lot of solid walls, so we’re not creating the Crystal Palace.”

The ends of hallways have window walls. “We like to put windows at the end of the hallway so you know what the weather is like.”

He said the key was the building was a safe and confined space. It would include things like monitored doors that will show if the door has been propped open.

Student Tyler Vassar welcomed the design, saying, “It seems more like a hardened school, and now we don’t have a hardened school so that seems better.”

A hardened school is one with safety features in place.

The design includes two wedge-shaped hallway areas, the first at the entrance to the school, which makes the lobby area larger for people to congregate in. The second wedge/lobby is by the courtyard.

Committee members listed what they did and didn’t like. Natural light, good use of space, and functionality were among the pluses. Others said the courtyard had too many eyes on it and nobody would use it.

Others said it was a well-though out design that the community could get behind, with another person saying it was compact enough that “no one needs roller skates to get around.”

Another liked the tried- and-true design that wasn’t trying to be flashy. Also, the closeness of the classrooms, gathered around the courtyard and connected by hallways, meant teachers would have an easier time staying connected.


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