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Middle school building nearly completed, staff welcomes grade 6 into the fold, has capacity for future growth

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Members of the St. Helens School District board of directors finish a tour of the new middle school building over the summer, while work is being completed on the new school. The school will now house students in grades six, seven and eight, a change from the middle school's previous grade configuration.

While the St. Helens School District is welcoming a number of new staff members this year, some of the most notable changes are structural.

From new construction to completed projects and planning for future renovations, the St. Helens School District buildings have undergone changes and will continue to evolve over the course of the school year.

One notable project is the brand new St. Helens Middle School building. Construction crews are still working to completely finish the building, which was funded by a $49 million voter-approved bond in 2016. Many of the educational spaces were completed in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year this week, however.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Classes started this week at St. Helens Middle School. The new building offers updated technology for teachers to use in lessons, dedicated wings for separate grades, and improved safety features.

Construction of the middle school was set back by a number of complications over the spring and summer, including delays involving materials and permits, but crews worked to complete the majority of classrooms and essential spaces in time for students to attend school after Labor Day.

Demolition of the old middle school building began earlier this summer, and Superintendent Scot Stockwell noted that crews have been prioritizing student spaces inside the building prior to completing exterior work.

Construction of the exterior of the building, large gymnasium, outdoor fields and other unfinished areas will continue into fall.

Another major change at the middle school is the composition of its students and staff. Previously, middle school was comprised of seventh and eighth grade. Starting this school year, sixth-grade students have been welcomed into the fold.

The building also has the capacity to house more students as district needs expand and the student population grows in the future.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Students started classes at the new St. Helens Middle School earlier this week.

The 2016 bond also paid for the creation of a permanent building for the alternative high school campus, which opened to students earlier this year. The school was formerly called the Columbia County Education Campus, but the school board recently voted to rename the campus Plymouth High School.

A portion of the bond proceeds will help pay for safety improvements at St. Helens High School, and preliminary work on some of those projects will begin later this school year.

Also at St. Helens High, a sidewalk and bike lane improvement project, which will enhance pedestrian safety, is ongoing. The work has been a joint effort of the city of St. Helens and the Columbia County Roads Department.

Additional pedestrian safety improvements are planned as a separate project near McBride Elementary School.

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