The St. Helens School District launches the new school year this week with new details about the estimated $67 million renovations planned at St. Helens High School at 2375 Gable Road.
Demolition of portions of St. Helens High School, originally scheduled for this past June, is now planned for early next year, according to St. Helens School Superintendent Scot Stockwell.
The delay comes from the extended design process and to allow the district to start the new school year without construction going on.
“We need to start with abatement and that will begin in November,” Stockwell said. “Removing all hazardous materials will go from November through January. The last part of January and the start of February is when we plan to start the teardown of building A.”
Stockwell said the gym, the auditorium, and the cafeteria will be the portions of building A that will be retained.
“The bones of those areas are still good, it’s the other areas, the hallways and some of those classes on the side that all need to be removed, so those will come down and construction will start,” he said.
Stockwell said the district’s contractor is projecting 30 months to complete the project.
“It is pretty significant and we are working really hard to bring that timeline down to more like a 22 to 25 month project,” he said.
Budget is a moving target
According to Stockwell, the estimated $67 million dollar school renovation budget is a “moving target,” and he said the district is still working to determine the best time to seek individual contract bids.
“You never want to build a building that is well under budget, not put money in, and think that’s what you could have had, so you design it for what you dream to have, and then you pair that back into what you can afford,” he said. So, we re in the process of finalizing what we can afford. We’re pretty close.”
The funding for the high school project comes from two voter approved bonds, including about $5 million from the bond that was used to build the district’s middle school.
Stockwell said the vision of the renovated high school is so far what he, the school board and the community hope for.
“I think it is hitting the mark pretty darn well,” Stockwell said. “Each time we work and refine, it gets better because we are able to start drilling down into what exactly we had in our conversations. This is pretty close to the dream that we are hoping for our community.”
Stockwell said the renovated high school will provide new security for students, staff and visitors beyond the security that comes from technology. He pointed out that the windows of the building are a key part of that security.
“Our research tells us that bad guys don’t like to be seen,” he said. “So, we have it situated so that the office has a good view of the school and the windows along the outside of the building allow views from inside of anyone approaching the building.”
Stockwell said the current high school is composed of four buildings that students walk in between during the transition of each class period.
“That was a big drive for us to go out for a bond so that we can connect all those buildings, A, B and C,” He said “Build D is a career tech program location, we just couldn’t connect it up, so we will still have security protocols around that building. By connecting the buildings, all students can remain in the school moving back and fourth rather than having to go outside.”
The building connect effort also reduces the number of doors at the high school.
“The current high school has 80-plus doors in it,” Stockwell said. “Each door is the possibility of a breach of security. We have significantly reduced that number, to about a third of what we have now.”
Stockwell said beyond advantages for students and school staff, the new renovations will provide new opportunities for the community.
“That is really a big part of our dream,” he said. “It will be set up so that the community will be able to use the athletic fields, our performing arts area, and our cafeteria, so it will be a really great space or the community to come together to play, to participate in activities, and performances. We are looking forward to this being a busy place all the time and being used well.”
A key way to help the community utilize the building will be through the school district’s connection to the City of St. Helens Parks and Recreation programs.
Stockwell said the connect began four years ago following a meeting with the City of St. Helens and the school district to propose using the schools as facilities for a park and recreation district.
“The city was in the process than of deciding how to start a parks and rec district, so it was perfect timing for the two of us to come together and since than we have done a lot of great work partnering, which has lead to the city sponsoring after school programs in our schools without costing taxpayers money by having to build additional facilities,” he said. “So that partnership benefits our kids and also our entire community.”
Eleven portable classrooms have been set up at the northwest side of the St. Helens High School campus to house a portion of the students once demolition and construction begins. The district purchased some of the portable classrooms from other school districts, according to Stockwell, costing approximately $20,000 to $25,000 each.
“We bought about half and we moved others from other campus locations,” he said.
Soderstrom Architects, Cornerstone Project Management and Hoffman Construction began the renovation design work for the school project in April.
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
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.
Updates about the high school renovations are made during the regular public school board and the district’s bond oversight monthly committee meetings. Schedules and agendas of the meetings may be found at the St. Helens School District website.
Follow this project at thechronicleonline.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.