Former Woodburn elementary school teacher Dick Hohnbaum remembers back to his first years teaching with the Woodburn School District when his first-grade classroom was located in the Woodburn Armory for a year in 1970.
He began teaching first grade in Woodburn at Nellie Muir Elementary School in 1969 and relocated his classrooms to the Armory to accommodate the growing class sizes while the district remodeled Washington Elementary.
"I was head teacher and we had seven first-grade (classes)," Hohnbaum said. "One of the first-grade (classes) was in the firing range, which was an interesting experience."
Hohnbaum moved to Washington in 1971 after its remodel and taught for 20 more years before retiring in 1991. He was the first man to teach first grade in the state of Oregon, and when the Legislature voted to offer Kindergarten, Hohnbaum took up the post and became the first man in Oregon to teach at that level too.
"I always wanted to teach first grade, but in those days men were not really allowed to teach first grade," Hohnbaum said. "I even have a letter from the superintendent that said he would never hire a man to teach first grade, because the younger grades are only suited for a woman's temperament."
But Hohnbaum was persistent, and when next administration took over, he once again petitioned to teach first grade and was granted the position, beginning a memorable career in the district.
Now, 48 years after Washington's last remodel, Hohnbaum was invited back to speak to guests and tour the facilities as the school district unveiled its 2018 renovation of the building at an open house on Dec. 18.
"I thought we should take advantage of such a guest on this evening, because it reminds us that in our community we're only caretakers," Woodburn Superintendent Chuck Ransom said. "We're passing through. We're doing this for the children and for future generations, and to see the connection — remodel after remodel — taking care of our kids generation after generation is powerful."
The renovation was the latest project in the district to be completed as a result of the $65 million school bond passed by voters in 2015. In addition to seismic upgrades and renovations to the existing structures at the Washington campus, the school features a new two-story classroom building with room to accommodate 650 students.
The new building along the back of the campus allowed the existing structure to expand its gymnasium, library and cafeteria — core spaces that needed to grow to accommodate existing and future growth among the student body.
"Building one big new space allowed us to upsize all of the core spaces and allow enough room for the new classrooms," said Marlene Gillis of Soderstrom Architects, part of the design team. "By upsizing those core spaces and adding those classrooms, the idea is that the building can grow with the community as the building grows."
The former cafeteria space was converted into a larger library, and as classrooms migrated to the new building, those former spaces were turned into a larger cafeteria. The former gymnasium became a new commercial kitchen, and the old library became three new classrooms.
"The approach we took is to take the existing school and use as much of that as we could for the new space," Gillis said.
Across from the new library, the school's rebuilt full-size gym features wood flooring, bleachers and enough space to accommodate the entire school population.
Washington's other improvements include accessible bathrooms, underground water lines for fire suppression system, a storm water management system, a new covered play area, a bus turn-around and staff parking. The district purchased several adjacent properties to build Washington's new parking area, which helps eliminate the long lines of traffic that used to build up on Lincoln Street as parents dropped off or picked up their kids.
Construction on the campus began in the summer of 2017 when crews laid the groundwork for the project to come, excavating the bus loop, new classroom building and storm drain. The school's play structure was also removed, one of many difficult hurdles that students and staff had to negotiate, but was made easier by the flexibility of the Triplett Wellman Contractors team that oversaw the project, Principal Alfredo Belanger said.
"They were very wonderful to work with and they met us through a lot of different challenges while we tried to teach during the construction," Belanger said. "I also want to thank our staff and our students for being very flexible and patient through this entire process.
"Everybody was very excited about the end product, so we pulled together and now when you come to Washington, you're going to see everybody's happy faces."