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Current, incoming students take part; construction of building set to begin after permits are obtained

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - A group of St. Helens School District staff, students, school board and community members take part in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the new St. Helens Middle School building site on Wednesday, April 25. The ceremony took place nearly a month after a similar event was held to kickoff construction of the districts new alternative high school education campus.The St. Helens School District held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the district's new middle school building Wednesday, April 25.

During the event, a group of nearly 20 people was asked to participate by using golden shovels to scoop a small pile of dirt on the site of the new building.

The group included school board members, a middle school student, incoming middle school students, members of the bond oversight committee and other community members.

A crowd of nearly 25 others observed.

The school is expected to open for the 2019-2020 school year.

Following the groundbreaking ceremony, several students discussed what it meant to them to participate. Sixth-graders Tristan Trachsel, Carson Salisbury, Michael Millsap and Cole Leader, who will start at the current middle school in fall, said the experience made them feel like an integral part of the new building's construction.

"It made me feel important and it was a fun process," Millsap said. "It's the beginning of the new building."

Today's sixth-graders will transition to the new middle school for their eighth-grade year.

Seventh-grader Ruby Christianson said the groundbreaking was important for her since she will be a high-schooler by the time the new building is completed.

"It was fun especially since I won't be going to this new middle school," Christianson said.

All of the students who took part in the ground-breaking are also part of an after school club called #SHMS2K19. The club's goal is to inform the community about the construction process from the student perspective.

The students have been building a Facebook page this school year and plan to post photos daily in the 2018-19 school year as construction continues.

"I think we're the perfect grade since we'll be in seventh grade in the current building and eighth grade in the new middle school," Trachsel said of his fellow sixth-grade classmates.

Many of the incoming students said they are looking forward to the extra gymnasium space, more classrooms and the overall new design of the building in comparison to the current school.

While the school district has obtained conditional permits for grading work on the site, unforeseen complications have slowed down the entirety of the construction process. The district is still working with the city of St. Helens to obtain building permits for the middle school.

Earlier this year, the city of St. Helens unexpectedly lost their building department official, one of the factors causing delays in the permitting process.

During a school board meeting Wednesday night, Diana Keelser, a project manager with HEERY International, described this time period as critical. The school district and city are continuing to work together to obtain the permits in a timely manner, district officials stated.

If obtaining permits takes much longer, construction workers may have to work overtime to meet the fall 2019 deadline for building occupancy, Superintendent Scot Stockwell explained.

In the meantime, construction work on the Columbia County Education Campus is underway. Grading work on the site has been completed and some foundation work has already begun.

The build is projected to be complete by February.

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