Camas leaders focus on growth, future

Mayor, schools head speak at 2017 ‘State of Community’

Dozens of community members turned out for the fifth annual State of the Community address on Thursday, Oct. 26, to hear what Camas leaders have been working on recently — and get a sneak peek of the road ahead.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell and a video by the Port of Camas-Washougal delivered a vision of a city trying to accommodate state-mandated growth without disrupting the things Camas residents hold dear.

“Growth is not just happening here in Camas,” Higgins said. “It’s all over the county, the state.” Higgins, a Camas High graduate who chose to raise his family in his own hometown, said the city was special when he was in high school and Camas had a population of about 5,000; and it was special when he started his family and the city had 15,000 residents. Now that Camas’ population has hit 23,000 and is expected to grow past 30,000 in the near future, Higgins said he isn’t worried that his hometown will lose its sense of being a special, unique place to live, work and play.

“We live in a special place, but that’s not because of its population,” Higgins told the crowd gathered inside Lacamas Lodge Thursday night. “Size is not what makes Camas special. It’s the quality of the people.”

Snell agreed, and said school district leaders have worked hard over the past few years to ensure that growth is a positive instead of negative thing for Camas students and families.

“Like the city, we’ve gone through strategic planning,” Snell said. “We’ve talked about who we are and who we want to be.”

Some of the Camas-area projects highlighted at the State of the Community gathering included:

o North Shore Sewer Project:

The $15.5 million project, which will provide sewer service to the city’s developing North Shore area via 4.5 miles of transmission lines, is on budget and on target to hit the estimated May of 2018 finish date, Higgins said. The new sewer line also will service the new Lacamas Lake Elementary School, expected to open in the fall of 2018.

Most citizens may have noticed the road construction for this project along Northeast Everett Street during the summer months, but now construction is limited to Leadbetter Road, which is closed to all traffic except local residents. The project also includes a new pedestrian bridge near Lacamas Park, which will provide better access to the trails and parks.

o Camas Meadows:

Road improvements between Northeast Goodwin and Lake roads are underway, and will service the new Camas Meadows mixed-use development, which will feature shopping, retail businesses and a 42-lot subdivision of luxury homes. This project is using private funds, Higgins explained, and the city’s role is to ensure that the road improvements meet city design standards.

Higgins announced Thursday that next year’s Clark County Parade of Homes will feature 14 homes starting at $1 million inside The Parklands at Camas Meadows, a luxury gated community adjacent to the Camas Meadows Golf Club.

o Landslide Repairs:

Higgins updated citizens on several landslide-related road improvements Thursday night, and said Forest Home Road is finally open. He added that the project took a bit longer than city officials expected because Camas was able to secure Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for the Forest Home Road and Northwest Lacamas Lane landslides, saving local residents nearly $8 million.

o Park Expansion:

The Lacamas North park project recently made No. 1 on the Clark County Legacy Lands’ Conservation Futures 2017 list, opening up the possibility of obtaining grant funding. The $4.8 million project would obtain 96 acres to expand the 880-acre Lacamas Corridor park and greenway and built a link to the trail system that circles Lacamas Lake. The Conservation Futures grant could fund a little more than half of the project, saving the city more than $2.6 million.

o Students’ Social and Emotional Health:

CSD Superintendent Jeff Snell spoke to the great challenge of knowing all of the Camas’ district’s 7,100 students and meeting their academic as well as social and emotional health needs. Recently, the school district conducted exit interviews with graduating seniors to find out how students viewed their school careers and to better understand how CSD could meet the long-term needs of their students.

“It’s a new world … a very immediate world that is both wonderful and tragic, and our kids carry that with them,” Snell said.

In a world where everyone looks “perfect” on social media posts and no one lets their real, messy, human lives show, many students can feel as if they are the only ones going through a tough time, Snell said.

“Social-emotional learning is not about touchy-feely things,” Snell said. “This is about finding balance and knowing yourself … and it’s hard for kids to do this … but these are the types of things that employers look for, the things that make families great.”

School district leaders hope that focusing on things like social and emotional health — in addition to CSD’s reputation for having rigorous academics and high-achieving students — will create a more well-balanced student population and better prepare Camas youth for the “real world” that follows high school and college.

o New Schools:

The new Discovery High School, a project based learning school adjacent to the district’s PBL middle school that opened in the fall of 2016, along with the new Lacamas Lake Elementary School will open in the fall of 2018.

To accommodate future growth, Snell said the district may look at passing another construction bond in 2021 to build a second comprehensive high school and a third middle school.

o Connecting to Camas Students

The State of the Community evening featured several Camas students, including members of the Camas High School orchestra, who entertained the crowd before the address, and Camas High senior Samara Davis, 17, who sang the national anthem.

Snell also played a video produced after the district’s “exit interviews” with seniors.

“I would challenge people to attend a (school) event, to talk to a kid about their school. If you haven’t, go to a choir or band concert, or a drama production. These kids are so talented,” Snell said. “I feel like my job is to not mess this world up, because these kids are going to take it to a whole other level.”

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