Consultants propose design concepts, school district to conduct listening sessions in November

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Construction of the new Columbia County Education Campus is well underway, and work on the new middle school building is in progress. With that, the St. Helens School District has begun discussions about what upgrades can be completed at the high school with remaining bond funding.When the St. Helens School District went out for a $49 million bond in 2016, which was then approved by 56 percent of voters, it planned to build a new alternative high school building for students at Columbia County Education Campus, a new middle school, and to upgrade science classrooms and safety features at the high school.

Now that construction is underway and both projects are on track and budget, the district has a better idea of exactly how much bond funding can be allocated to the high school.

Construction costs for CCEC are currently at $32 million, with a budget of $34 million, while costs the middle school are at $7.6 million with a budget of $7.7 million, leaving close to $3 million for the high school and the possibility of selling unused bonds to bring available money up to $5 million.

Deeper conversations are now occurring about what upgrades are needed at the high school, how much $5 million will allow for, and whether or not the community would support another bond to pay for a complete remodel, or potential rebuild, of the high school building.

During a St. Helens School Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Henry Fitzgibbon with Soderstrom Architects spoke in more detail about what was possible with the $5 million. One proposal included upgrades to the front entrance with a security vestibule at the main office, a remodel of the restrooms in A Building, security walls built between A, B, and C buildings, basic remodeling of the science classrooms, and a library remodel.

For comparison, Fitzgibbon also included a drawing of what a high school remodel could include. The design included safety upgrades at the main entrance; remodeling of all classrooms in the A and B Buildings, including expansion of the science classrooms; a restroom remodel; a new administrative office; and an enclosed walkway between the buildings. The design also includes a complete rebuild and realignment of A building so it runs parallel to B building, allowing for better line of sight down hallways.

Earlier this year, the school board began discussing the possibility of upgrading the St. Helens High School completely and requested more information from Soderstrom Architects, which helped design the new middle school and CCEC buildings.

After Wednesday's meeting, school board members and staff were quick to point out that no final design options were determined. They were also clear that community input was a critical part of the decision-making process.

The board is now considering approaching community members to determine support for the passage of another school bond that could allow them to rebuild St. Helens High School. Listening sessions are set to start in November and Stockwell said it's possible the district would pursue a bond as early as May.

Stockwell explained in a prepared statement that the district is truly in a "win-win" situation. If the community supports the idea of approving a second construction bond, the district could add a third new school building. Without the additional bond funding, the district still has $5 million to upgrade the high school as proposed in the 2016 bond.

"The St. Helens School District recently conducted another poll asking if the community was interested in a complete remodel of St. Helens High School with the results indicating good support. With that the St. Helens School Board is strongly considering asking constituents if they want them to move forward with what $5 million can do or would they prefer a complete remodel to bring the entire High School up to 21st century learning standards. Over the next couple months the St. Helens School District will reach out to ask and listen to what our community wants in a remodeled High School to best determine if it is reasonable to ask voters to approve a new bond," Stockwell's press release stated, in part.

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