Camas needs a second comprehensive high school

By Troy Hull
Guest columnist

In case you aren’t aware, on Nov. 9 the Camas School Board will be holding a workshop open to the public at Zellerbach Administrative Center to put the finishing touches on a $120 million school construction bond. That school bond will then be voted on by our School Board members at their Nov. 23 board meeting. After the Board approves it, the bond will be put before us voters in February.

As we all know, our community is lucky to have a fantastic school system. We have wonderful facilities and staff that are committed to the success of our kids. Because the city is continuing to grow, more schools need to be built to continue providing a high quality education.

After attending a recent “Listening Post” meeting put on by the School District to introduce the bond to the public, it appears that there are a lot of exciting improvements planned for our schools.

The focus of this letter is on the improvements to one of our two high schools — the comprehensive Camas High School (Hayes Freedom High School being the other).

Camas is at a junction where it needs to decide whether it is a one, or two, comprehensive high school town. While it would be great to continue only having one high school, it is clear that this would mean having a super mega high school campus.

One of several drawbacks to the super-mega school plan is that there are so many kids in the building that some get “lost” in the masses. We are at risk of losing touch with some of our students when we allow our school to get too big. Moving half of our students to a smaller, more intimate campus will lower the risk of students feeling neglected and ignored.

Another issue with growing the existing school is transportation. We all know that there are long traffic jams and insufficient parking issues at our high school. If we put more students and staff on the existing campus, the traffic problems will only get worse. Moving some of our students and staff to a different campus will relieve the congestion and parking issues.

And finally, with a giant high school there are less opportunities for kids to participate in extracurricular activities — including sports. Sports are a great way to keep kids busy after school so they aren’t getting bored and into trouble. Studies show there is added value to our community and our children by offering after-school activities to promote teamwork, responsibility, and achievement.

Having two comprehensive high schools will encourage more kids to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities compared to one high school.

It appears the School Board plans to recommend we continue with a single comprehensive high school in Camas at their workshop on Nov. 9, even though it was acknowledged at the Listening Post that Camas has grown to the point where a second high school is inevitable.

The reasoning offered by the School Board is that we cannot afford to build a second comprehensive high school right now.

The district wants the voters to approve a $50 million expansion to the existing high school so the capacity can be increased from about 1,800 students attending Camas High School right now to 2,750 students.

Think about it — that will be a massive high school. It will be about 50 percent larger than it is now. Our eighth-graders will transition from their 800 to 900 student middle school to a 2,750 student high school. That is just too big.

Now that we understand the direction our School Board wants to go, I would like to provide a solution that the School Board should consider in their Nov. 9 workshop.

Right now the bond plan includes construction of a new $30 million dollar elementary school even though the school district’s own 2015 Capital Facilities Plan says that our existing elementary schools will meet our needs through at least 2021–and beyond with the use of a few portables. In other words, the school district did a study and determined we don’t need any more elementary schools for at least another six years.

My suggestion is that the school district remove the new elementary school from the bond and allocate those funds to a second high school. Deleting the new elementary school would provide $80 million to construct the new high school.

For perspective, Woodland School District just completed a $43 million state-of-the art, new comprehensive high school campus with a student capacity of 900. That campus includes new sports fields and a football stadium. So I would argue that $80 million should be enough for Camas to build a second comprehensive high school campus. This will provide for a better overall education experience for our high schoolers — and is inevitable. There is just no way that Camas can continue indefinitely with a single comprehensive high school.

Based on what I heard at the Listening Post, it appears the School Board is unwilling to listen to any other ideas except what they are currently planning. They say it’s too late now. But it’s not too late. We are only in the planning stage.

The School Board is supposed to be open-minded and take feedback from the public so they ensure they put a bond package together that the public will agree to pay for, and is best for our children.

It is still possible to postpone the new elementary school until a future bond measure in order to build the second high school now and alleviate the overcrowding, traffic challenges, and sheer size problems that come with a super mega, 2,750 student high school.

I challenge the School Board to have an open mind and consider this option; otherwise they could be gambling with the success of the bond vote in February.

I want to vote “yes” for the bond to improve our schools, but I do not want to vote “yes” to spend another $50 million for a 2,750 student, super mega-high school campus and all the negative consequences it has for our kids.

In closing, I ask the Camas citizens to consider attending the Camas School Board meeting at 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9 at JDZ, 841 N.E. 22nd Ave. Whatever your opinion is on the one versus two comprehensive high school town, please let it be heard so that the appropriate bond measure can put forward to the voters.

Troy Hull is a 15-year Camas resident.

Editor’s note: Following the publication of this column, the time of the Monday, Nov. 9, Camas School Board meeting was changed to 3 p.m.