The Future

This conceptual drawing illustrates what the high school could look like after the renovations.

Design work is underway in earnest with demolition and construction expected soon for a multi-million dollar renovation project at St. Helens High School (SHHS).

Soderstrom Architects, Cornerstone Project Management and Hoffman Construction are working to renovate the entire high school, located at 2375 Gable Road in St. Helens.

Ready for Renovations

Demolition and construction work for major renovations at St. Helens High School is expected to begin soon.

Key aspects of the updates include:

  • Connecting buildings A, B and C
  • Upgraded HVAC system
  • 21st century science classrooms
  • Improvements to Career Tech programs including a medical professional pathway
  • State of the art technology
  • Larger band and choir classrooms
  • Renovating and expanding sports fields
  • Redesigned school layout for easier access of community use
The Departments

This is an initial St. Helens High School department layoff, subject to change as the project moves forward.

"The design of the school has slightly changed over the past few months, but the overall plan remains the same and true to community goals," St. Helens School Superintendent Scot Stockwell said. "The Soderstrom Architect group has spent countless hours meeting with teachers and other staff at the high school to design the best school possible that meets the needs of St. Helens students."

According to Stockwell, a team of teachers has toured several newly renovated high schools to help develop ideas for the local renovation.

"The hope is that the building will feel like a new school and not as if it has had multiple additions," Stockwell said.

Timeline

The planning, design and permitting process is expected to take anywhere from nine months to a year to complete depending on the complexity of the project. Due to the fact that it is a renovation, Stockwell said extra time is required for design to determine what is salvageable of the old buildings and assure new construction aligns with existing construction.

Stockwell said construction is expected to begin sometime in June or July and Building “A” demolition could begin before the summer.

Class connections

Under the current plan, Stockwell said connecting all three of the high school buildings addresses a major safety concern and allows students to move between classes without going outside. The only exception will be when students attend classes in Building “D” for Career Tech Education (CTE).

The nature of the classes being taught and the large open bays required for woods, metal and the auto shop do not lend themselves to connecting Building “D” with the main school building, Stockwell said. Although students attending shop classes will need to walk outside between buildings, the district plans to improve the security of those routes.

The antiquated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system will be completely replaced.

"The need for a new system has only been highlighted by the smoke created by late summer and early fall wildfires and the pandemic," Stockwell said. "Increased ventilation not only improves health and comfort, fresh air and oxygen help students maintain focus and stamina throughout the day. Studies indicate that students in properly ventilated classrooms are less prone to getting tired in the afternoon."

The current SHHS science classrooms have not been updated since 1980 and there has been significant changes to science and technology over the past 40 years, according to Stockwell, who added that classrooms will be significantly larger with access to more equipment and space for labs and hands on experiments.

According to the school district, St. Helens High School has some of the best Career Tech Education (CTE) programs in the state and are nationally recognized as top programs.

"The shop classes are well designed, but are in need of freshening with some minor changes to improve storage and instruction," Stockwell said. "One addition to our career tech program is for a Medical CTE pathway.

A new classroom is being added for students interested in the medical career field, he said, and the program is being designed so students will receive college credit and a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) license on completion of the program.

All classrooms will be equipped with the latest technology that allows flexibility as well expandability as new technology emerges. Upgraded WiFi with a larger bandwidth will allow for access to the internet and alleviate dead spots in the school, according to the renovation design.

Stockwell said as the SHHS band and choir program enjoyed years of success and thrived, the programs have outgrown their current classrooms and storage. The new classrooms are being designed by acoustical engineers to optimize the classes for student musical performance. Increased storage and accessibility to the classrooms has also been a priority so students have an easier route to the auditorium free of stairs and other obstacles that are challenging to move large instruments past.

Sports fields, common areas

Additional turf sports fields will be added to the high school allowing for use during the rainy season and address Title IX equity concerns. The current plan is to add a turf baseball and softball field with a soccer pitch in their outfield.

"The addition of the fields will also be utilized by our city’s Park and Rec program increasing the community accessibility," Stockwell said.

The renovation design shifts SHHS's new commons area next to the gyms and auditorium.

"All three venues are utilized by the community on a regular basis and the move allows for greater flexibility in use while not interfering with academic classrooms," Stockwell said. "One new addition is a courtyard off the commons. The addition will allow students a safe place to eat outside and also serve as an amphitheater for performances."

The SHHS renovation designs are subject to change.

"It is important to note that the current drawings will continue to change and be adjusted as the design process is completed," Stockwell said. "At this time most adjustments are minor as they change to meet the needs of our school programs and fit within our budget."

History

Last May, following voter approval for a $55 million bond to fund the project, the district released a statement saying the work will result in “well planned and carefully built spaces that will serve St. Helens students and the community for many years.”

During public sessions in 2015, school officials listened to public concerns about the need for modern health, safety and education standards upgrades at the middle and high schools.

Over a five-year period, a new middle school and a new options high school building were constructed.

The district then worked with the community to develop a high school improvement plan that would address health, safety, building systems and education programs at the facility. In February, the board of directors referred the proposed bond to voters for the May 2020 ballot.

Following the election, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school board voted to delay the sale of bonds until 2022. The delay would not impact the proposed construction schedule to the high school, according to a release from the St. Helens School District.

Follow the SHHS renovations at thechronicleonline.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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