Camas' Woodburn Elementary design incorporates nature into the school

New building, natural feel

Woodburn Elementary, the newest school in Camas, will open its doors to students Tuesday, Sept. 3. There is also a back-to-school night on Thursday, Aug. 29.

Woodburn Elementary School Fast Facts

Location: 2400 N.E. Woodburn Drive, Camas

Size: 71,383 square feet

Namesake: A former school, Woodburn Hill, located down the street from the current site.

Mascot: The Wolves

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A reading nook is one of the many “little touches” at the school. Dull Olson Weekes Architects designed it after finding out there was extra space in the library area.

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Principal Jan Strohaier chats with librarian Marge Crouch as she organizes books and other materials. Crouch, who was a classroom teacher for many years, spent hours researching and ordering new items for the library. "I work with the teachers and get to know what they like, and get books that fit the curriculum," she said.

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The centrally-located library opens into a courtyard. “It’s perfect for reading a book outside on a warm, sunny day,” said Strohmaier.

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A covered area for the more dreary days awaits students at Woodburn Elementary. It will also be used by students in the district’s Step Ahead Preschool.

After three years in the making, the Camas School District’s newest building will open its doors to eager students and teachers.

Woodburn Elementary, which can accommodate up to 600 students, is located off of Southeast Crown Road and surrounded by nature.

“People ask which classroom has the best view, and I can’t really give them an answer,” said Jan Strohmaier, principal. “There are fantastic views everywhere.”

The 12-acre site is adjacent to the Lacamas Creek trail system. To keep with the natural setting, outdoor elements were incorporated into the design.

There are wood beams throughout, and natural colors and textures in the classrooms, hallways and cafeteria. The library features two large LEED certified windows with leaf designs etched into the glass. At the north side are spring and summer leaves, while the south side includes fall and winter leaves.

The artist, Marlin Green, visited the site prior to construction and took photos of the trees on the property to use in the library window design.

In addition, each section of the building is named using local tree species, such as cedar, fern, elm, alder, oak and pine. Windows are designed to let in as much natural light as possible.

“One of the unique features of this school is that we have unbelievable windows,” Strohmaier said. “We have really tried to bring nature into the school as well as the outside building design. One of our goals was to make sure no one ever drives by here in 10 years and thinks it looks bad. We also wanted to have the same feeling inside.”

On the south side of the building, wildlife, including beavers, can be seen wandering near a water feature and on the school grounds.

“It’s breathtaking back here,” Strohmaier said.

She is hoping teachers will be able to incorporate the adjacent trail system and Lacamas Creek area in science lessons someday.

“Right now, we’re just trying to find yardsticks and paperclips,” Strohmaier joked. “We haven’t had those conversations yet.”

During a recent summer day last week, educators were already at the school unpacking boxes. Librarian Marge Crouch was surrounded by stacks of new books.

“She has invested a ton of time researching and purchasing material,” Strohmaier said.

Crouch said she purchased the books from a “common core” list provided by book vendors, and by working with teachers.

“You learn which books tend to get checked out a lot,” she said.

The library is the center of the school, bookended by an intermediate wing on one side, and a primary wing on the other. There are a total of 11 classrooms areas and one computer lab. The gym, cafeteria and music rooms are located in a separate wing that can be closed off from school classrooms, and rented to the community for special events.

In addition to educating kindergarten through fifth-grade children, Woodburn will also be home to the district’s Step Ahead Preschool program. Two certified teachers work with a team of early childhood professionals to serve 3- to 5-year-old children with and without special needs.

One feature recommended by staff during the design process was to keep classrooms the same size and include a room divider.

“We wanted the teachers to be able to structure the room based on their different teaching styles,” Strohmaier said. “We spent a lot of time getting feedback from Grass Valley and Helen Baller (elementary school) staff about what they liked and what they would do different if given the chance.”

She added that few educators have ever had this kind of opportunity.

“If we mess up now, we have no excuses,” Strohmaier joked.

Outside, a large playground and athletic field with a quarter-mile track, along with a covered area and preschool playground, have received the finishing touches and are ready for students to use.

“I am really excited (for when) the kids get here and we can develop a community of learners, and watch the teachers do their magic,” Strohmaier said.