Patron tour addresses building needs

Community members learn more about facilities impacted

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Carol Boyden, principal at Excelsior High School, talks with Washougal residents about the needs of the aging facility during a tour Friday. Excelsior is one of the buildings that will be replaced with a new facility if a bond is passed this February.

The district will host another patron tour on Friday, Jan. 23, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Participants meet at the District Office, 4855 Evergreen Way. Call Cassi Marshall at 954-3005 to reserve a spot.

Washougal residents got an up close and personal look at facilities that will be the focus of an upcoming bond measure.

Fifteen people, including district staff, viewed a video about the bond, then boarded a bus at the Washougal School District administration building for an hour long tour of Jemtegaard Middle School, Excelsior High School and the bus barn.

The district hosted the tour to familiarize district patrons with buildings they may have seen only in passing.

“We understand that the majority of voters that we are asking to support this capital bond do not have an opportunity to go into these facilities,” said Dawn Tarzian, Washougal School District superintendent.

The district will host another patron tour on Friday, Jan. 23, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Participants meet at the District Office, 4855 Evergreen Way. Call Cassi Marshall at 954-3005 to reserve a spot.

The Washougal School Board has authorized the district to issue a general obligation capital bond to address safety, student capacity and facility needs. This decision comes after nearly a year of research, study and community input by the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee. The bond will be $57.68 million and brought before voters at a special election on Feb. 10, 2015.

If the bond passes, Jemtegaard, built in 1981, will be replaced with a new building that is a combined kindergarten through eighth-grade campus with room for 1,000 students. The concept is similar to Cape Horn-Skye Elementary and Canyon Creek Middle School, which share a library, gym and cafeteria to save on construction costs.

“The ‘California style’ construction of classroom pods and breezeways has definitely taken its toll on the facility and the efficiency of heating it has been a challenge,” Tarzian said.

She noted that the open feel of the campus and separate pods is also a major safety concern if there is an active shooter on campus, something that wasn’t prevalent in 1981.

“Some people have asked what was the thought process behind the construction of Jemtegaard and the best explanation I have heard is that the state matched construction dollars based on square feet of the classrooms but did not include hallways. By eliminating them, this kept the cost low. With the replacement school, it should be sufficient for the next 50 years.”

At JMS, tour attendees visited computer and robotics classes, a classroom pod and the portables, some of which are more than 30 years old.

Principal David Cook noted that due to the small classroom size, it makes it a challenge for students to work together in groups.

“It was designed for the desks to be in rows with the talking head at the front,” he joked, then continued, “That model just doesn’t work well anymore. But when we want the kids to collaborate, we can’t do it. With the tables pushed together and bags on the floor, there is nowhere to move.”

The next stop on the tour was Excelsior, the district’s alternative high school. It is housed next to Washougal High, in cramped portables that once belonged to the Rajneeshee cult.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a guru from India, gathered 2,000 followers at a remote Eastern Oregon ranch in the early 1980s. Arriving in search of enlightenment, the Rajneeshees became a political and social force that ultimately led to attempted murder, manhunts and prison time. The portables were transported to Washougal.

Nowadays, it houses students from a variety of backgrounds, for whom the traditional high school experience has not been a good fit.

Principal Carol Boyden noted the holes in the ceiling, thin walls, narrow hallways and tiny cafeteria. On a recent Friday, some students could be seen eating their lunches in the science room, which is more spacious.

“It also makes confidentiality really challenging,” Boyden said. “If students need to talk to a counselor, being overheard is always a concern.”

If the bond passes and new schools are built at JMS and EHS, the current facilities would remain open during construction so that students could remain on campus.

“The students who come here want to identify with this school,” Boyden said. “If they went over to WHS, we would lose kids.”

A new EHS would house up to 90 students.

The last stop on the tour was the bus barn, which is housed in an old building on “E” Street. If the bond passes, all operations will be moved to the property behind the district office, located on Evergreen Way.

During the tour of the bus barn, participants learned that there was not enough space to park all the buses, and some had to be left on the street near Washougal High School instead of behind a razor wire fence.

The walls inside the building are thin, and the smell of exhaust fumes wafts about the dispatch area.

“It’s a safety concern for our employees to be breathing those fumes all day,” Tarzian noted.

The building has little temperature regulation since it is not insulated. In some areas, you can stick your finger through the wall. The ceilings have cracks and dry rot, and water stains can be seen streaking down the walls. Leaks are common, especially during the winter months, Tarzian said.

Greg Brown, who has two children in Washougal schools, attended the tour to get a better idea of what the school district planned to do with the facilities.

“I am glad to hear they are doing it right this time,” he said.

Margaret McCarthy is mother to a freshman at WHS and is active in UNITE! Washougal, a youth substance abuse prevention program.

“In that group, we focus on the future for our kids,” she said. “I think of some of those kids and the facilities they are in every day. The kids have great potential and energy, I want to encourage them to grow those. Your environment affects how you think of yourself and what you can accomplish. The thinking behind this bond is very fiscally responsible. We need to take care of these things now and invest in the future.”