Saying goodbye to Jemtegaard

Students, staff give soon-to-be demolished school a fond farewell

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By Tori Benavente
Post-Record staff writer

The lofting wind that flowed east from the Columbia River Gorge, winding its way through Jemtegaard Middle School’s separated buildings for the past 35 years, has made its last round.

Last week, during the Washougal middle school’s final days, Jemtegaard staff packed up their classrooms and offices in preparation for the building’s demolition.

Next fall, the Jemtegaard Huskies — along with Columbia River Gorge Elementary students — will start their 2017-18 school year in a newly constructed building directly north of the original structure.

Jemtegaard Principal David Cooke said the move should boost students’ morale and turn back-to-school time into a more pleasant experience.

“I think kids are going to say, ‘this building is special and it’s being made for me,'” Cooke said.

The investment in the new building reflects the community’s pride in the school and shows that people in the area have a true sense of love, concern and care for children, Cooke said.

In 2015, Washougal voters approved a $57 million bond to improve safety, student capacity and overall facilities in Washougal schools. Most of that money — about $47 million — pays for the new, 550-student Columbia River Gorge Elementary School and the updated Jemtegaard Middle School, which will hold 600 students.

Jemtegaard’s original campus held a main building, three pods of classrooms, a gym and portable. The new, two-level structure has classrooms lining two main hallways on either level. Cooke said he is excited for students to be under one roof and have a safer building.

An emotional goodbye

For 16 years, Jennifer Snapp has taught band, drama and choir at Jemtegaard. She credits the school’s location — JMS is situated on Washougal’s outskirts — with giving Jemtegaard a more tight-knit, “country school” community.

The process of packing away her band room was tough for Snapp, and her students were emotional after seeing a place they considered home starting to disappear, she said.

Scott Rainey has taught U.S. history at Jemtegaard for 29 years and said the school provided a refuge for many students.

“There’s a lot of kids that attend here that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and this is a safe place for them,” Rainey explained, adding that, since he had personalized his space inside the original building –and knew the ins-and-outs of how to make things work there — leaving was bittersweet.

In the last month of school, as Rainey started taking down his classroom, students started to notice that the teacher’s posters — showcasing Rainey’s love of history lessons, movies and music — that had once covered every inch of the teacher’s walls were disappearing. The students would complain, saying, “‘Ah, it doesn’t look like your room anymore, what is this? It looks awful,'” Rainey said.

Anna Linde has been an English teacher at Jemtegaard for 24 years, and said this year has been strange because there’s no end-of-the-year checklist and it feels like she’s just walking away.

Linde’s JMS memories include having a classroom lightbulb catch on fire, seeing animals living alongside students on campus, and watching a HAZMAT team invade the campus after a student contaminated the school with a bag of mercury.

Linde spent the day of “the mercury incident” decontaminating students’ feet. “It frightened the students, it was very scary for them, but it was very exciting,” she said.

Linde also created her first memories with her husband Brett Cox at Jemtegaard. The two began their relationship 15 years ago, after being assigned as teaching partners. Since then, they have eaten lunch together every day, she said.

Despite its mold, ants and dripping lights, the old JMS building will be missed, Linde said, but she’s looking forward to the new building’s natural light and capacity for new technology.

“It’s so exciting to have a building that’s 21st century,” Linde said. “I’m really excited to have technology that works when we want it to.”

The staff previewed the new building two weeks ago, and Snapp called her future band room “glorious.” The space will be 4,000 square feet — twice the size of the old room — with three levels to the ceiling, upside-down pyramid acoustic panels, state-of-the-art practice facilities and soundproof practice rooms, she said, allowing for the acoustics to accomplish three different sounds and for the music to sound like it’s coming from a concert hall.

With the year coming to a close, and the stress of packing now alleviated, Linde said she is ready to start a new chapter in the new building: “One Jemtegaard is going away, but a brand-new Jemtegaard is rising out of the rubble.”

Rainey said he thinks a true teacher can teach anywhere, and that it is a privilege to be able to work with his students everyday and be a part of the community at Jemtegaard.

The school is named for Gudrun Jemtegaard, who taught in Washougal for 44 years and never married, instead dedicating her life to education, Rainey said, adding that the students he’s met who had Jemtegaard as a teacher say she was the district’s most beloved teacher of all time.

“I always thought, what an incredible honor and privilege it is to work in a school named for someone who is so beloved,” he said. “I really believe that we get to carry on the legacy of Ms. Jemtegaard — and we will continue to in the new building as well.”