Room to grow: A look at Woodburn School District's bond proposal
As part of her duties with the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) team, school counselor Susan Stevens-Garcia helps coordinate the flow of students around Lincoln Elementary School.
Problem is, Stevens-Garcia and her group have a headache that is frustratingly typical of Woodburns public schools: Almost half of Lincolns students attend classes in temporary portables that are detached from core facilities cafeteria, gymnasium, libraries, even bathrooms.
A 10-year-old needing to do something as basic as answer the call of nature has to walk across the Lincoln campus to the main building, across a roadway used by buses at the beginning and end of the school day. And if its raining ... well, hell just get wet.
The daily logistics of coordinating are a never-ending source of grief for people like Stevens-Garcia and her team.
Weve talked about it so much, I dont think anybody wants to talk about it anymore, she said.
The problem is not unique to Lincoln. Woodburn School Board Chairman David Vancil estimated almost half of the districts 5,700 students receive instruction in portables.
Heritage, Washington, Nellie Muir, French Prairie, Valor and the high school are all adorned with the pockets of pre-fabricated portables that Vancil calls temporary classroom cities.
There is a total of more than 25 of the structures scattered across the district, many of them approaching if not already far past their recommended 15-year life span.
Theyre made to be temporary, Vancil said. But some of the ones at Nellie are 30 years old.
District staff maintains that the portables are workable for classroom space: They are clean and comfortable, and can be adapted to individual teachers needs.
Its adequate, but at the end of the day, its not as conducive to learning as real buildings, Vancil said.
Safety and security (the portables were once regular targets for break-ins before the district upgraded their exterior lighting and surveillance) are also ongoing concerns.
And the oldest portables, like the aforementioned ones at Nellie Muir Elementary, as well as the nearly 20-year-old models in use at Washington, are beginning to break down. Some are in need of significant repairs; others need to be replaced altogether.
The thing about the portables is that they work great for 10, 15 years, Superintendent Chuck Ransom said. But then you start to have issues: the siding, sometimes the windows, and always the roofs.
Vancil said a large portion of the districts annual maintenance budget goes toward repairing the portables.
We can keep the roofs from leaking, but at some point, it becomes cost-effective to consider demolition and replacement, Ransom said.
Thats exactly what district supporters hope to do with a $65 million bond measure voters will weigh in on for the second time on May 19. Last May, a very similar proposal to expand, renovate and otherwise improve the districts facilities was rejected by only 37 votes.
The bond, if approved, would replace the portables with new permanent buildings. For most of the schools, these would be in the form of annexes on their existing campuses, complete with additional core facilities.
Capacity is also a major issue the bond is designed to address. The figure oft-repeated by supporters of the measure is that the district is educating more than 5,700 students in facilities that were designed to accommodate fewer than 4,300.
Woodburn boasts the states largest elementary school, Heritage, which houses 930 students. The school, part of the districts previous bond package 20 years ago, opened in 1997 and has never seen a day it wasnt at capacity.
Heritage was full the day it opened, Vancil said.
The bond would bring the districts schools up to par, with built-in capacity for the predicted student population growth through 2035: estimated at 1,600.
Ransom said the focus of the bond proposal is at the elementary school level, where there is the greatest need for facility renovation, enhanced security and additional space.
But, he explained, this reflects not only the current needs and projected growth, but also the shifts in educational philosophy at the higher levels, particularly high school, where there is an increased emphasis in online instruction and off-campus, vocationally-based experiences.
A key feature of this bond proposal is that it is almost entirely based around improving and expanding the districts existing assets, rather than constructing entirely new facilities. Most of the districts schools are over 40 years old. Its oldest, Washington Elementary, is nearly 100, having been built in 1916.
However, Vancil said consultants hired by the district were impressed with the condition of its buildings, and said all of them, including Washington, could last for decades more if given the necessary repairs and renovations.
We think thats great, and we give a lot of credit to the maintenance staff for that, Vancil said. But, if were going to use these buildings for another 50 years, we need to bring them into the 21st century.
Most of the districts schools would receive technology improvements as well as new windows, lights, HVAC units and other energy-efficient upgrades. They would also receive major repairs, like roof replacements.
Several of the schools entryways would also be reworked for security purposes.
The final major piece of the bond proposal includes moving the district office, Welcome Center and Success High School to a centralized location.
The board hopes to purchase the former site of the Woodburn Family Medical Center on Meridian Drive for this purpose (Woodburn High Schools campus abuts the property, and the district already owns the buildings rear parking lot), but no concrete plans can be made until and unless the bond measure passes.
Ransom said there is a certain urgency about this years proposal, as the maintenance needs are such that, if the measure doesnt pass, the district will most likely have to dip into its general fund budget to address the most pressing issues.
This is our one opportunity to use this concept,?Ransom said. I think future generations will thank us for this plan.
For more renderings and information, visit woodburnsd.org/bond-measure-information.