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New classrooms will be used by middle-schoolers; old portables to be used for small group learning

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Sauvie Island Director Darla Meeuwsen and Joyce Miller Owens Charitable Foundation trustee George Ray shake hands on Friday, Feb. 9, after a ceremonial ground breaking cermemony for a new middle school wing that is slated to be built in the coming months. The Joyce Miller Owens Charitable Foundation is funding the construction of the new classrooms through grant funding.After more than a year of planning, permitting and design, construction of new middle school classrooms at Sauvie Island School will begin next week after a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, Feb. 9.

The classrooms are expected to be ready for student occupation by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Initially, SIS Director Darla Meeuwsen pitched the idea of renovating a shop building on school property to accommodate three new classrooms. But when staff and designers began exploring the concept, it became clear that bringing the building up to code to fit their needs for multiple classrooms, a hallway and space for lockers would be significantly more expensive than creating a new space.

SIS received a $780,000 grant from the Joyce Miller Owens Foundation in 2016 to fund construction of the new classrooms for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. The overarching budget for the project, including hard and soft costs for construction, permitting and design, however, is closer to $1.2 million, Meeuwsen explained. The foundation is covering all of the costs.

The new building, which will bear the name Joyce Miller Owens Annex, will be erected between the existing school and a set of portable classrooms on the northwest portion of the property. Once the portables are cleared out, staff can use the space for smaller group-based learning, like math and reading interventions, Meeuwsen explained.

School officials contacted designers from SUM Design Studio and Architecture to help develop the classroom design in 2016. SUM project manager Heather Green, who has two children at the school, said the studio worked closely with students and staff to determine their needs for the new educational space.

RENDERING COURTESY OF SUM DESIGN STUDIO AND ARCHITECTURE - This architectural rendering of the Joyce Miller Owens Annex, a new building set to be constructed at Sauvie Island Academy, shows what three new classrooms are intended to look like when they are complete. Construction on the classrooms is scheduled to start next week. "The design team at SUM met with the teachers to learn how they function in their classrooms to maximize the teachers' abilities to do their jobs," Green stated in an email. "With no traditional 'front' or 'back' of each room, the class can arrange the desks to work best for each new topic and activity."

The board recently approved a construction contract with Columbia-Cascade Construction.

The new classroom building will also feature large north-facing windows to allow the inflow of natural light without causing significant glare. The building's design will also mirror the existing school to create a cohesive look, Green explained.

Designers asked students for their input on color choices and design features for the new classrooms. To Green's surprise, they wanted colors more reflective of their age and simple designs to set the middle school apart from the elementary school setting.

"Their view was that they were not in elementary school anymore," Green said. "They're older and wanted to be more mature."

Last week, contractors, planners and school staff met to discuss the timeline for construction and logistics, such as where to house construction equipment, student access to portable classrooms during construction, and other matters.

"It's pretty surreal. It's one of those things that because the permits and planning have taken such a long time, it's hard to fathom that it's gonna happen," Meeuwsen said. "So now, it was just really interesting to have our construction team meeting and then suddenly it was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is real.'?"

Meeuwsen said students and staff are excited for the ground-breaking and are already looking forward to putting the classrooms to use.

Green said her son will be entering sixth grade at SIS in the fall, making him one of first students to use the new classrooms.

"It's fun. It's something new for everyone," Green said. "We're grateful to the Joyce Meyer Owens Foundation too. We want people to know how grateful we are [to them] for making this happen."

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