This story was updated from its original version.
Over a month after the West Linn Planning Commission authorized the construction of the new Athey Creek Middle School on Dollar Street, contractors began clearing the site Monday, Nov. 29.
The new facility is a replacement for the existing Athey Creek Middle School and will accommodate about 850 students. The former middle school, located on Borland Road in the Stafford area, will convert to the new third-option high school.
A group of contractors hopped into excavators and crawler loaders Monday, cutting trees.The first step of the project is clearing out the plot of land.
But the team also plans to preserve some of the natural resources, according to the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. On Tuesday, just 24 hours after the construction team started, about three football fields' worth of greenery was gone.
The property includes roughly 22 acres of natural resources and is nestled in what's known as the Arbor Cove neighborhood in West Linn. For the past few months, the district's design team worked to retain the greenspaces. The group intends to use the surrounding trees, slopes and greenery to bolster the atmosphere around the new school.
"The school district has carefully and intentionally planned for preservation of natural resources wherever possible in the site and building design of this new middle school project. These areas will be periodically inspected by a certified arborist, wetland consultant, soils engineer and civil engineer over the course of the project and they will make recommendations in support of this preservation as needed," Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said in a statement to the community.
One option being considered by the district is repurposing existing trees. Most of the land's trees will be removed to make room for the campus, but the design team plans to bring the natural resource of wood into the buildings.
These plans mirror the Lake Oswego School District and its efforts to conserve the land at the new Lakeridge Middle School. The district used tree trunks and wood to create some of the supporting beams and accents within the school hallways.
"By bringing the natural resource of wood into the building, trees will find new life within the walls of the school and reflect the greenspace on the exterior," Ludwig said.
From his home office, Rich Brooke watched trees fall down early this week.
"We were told by the school district and everyone that we would have a thick buffer of trees between the school and us, and that we wouldn't be able to see the school," Brooke said. "But (the treeline) is thinner than my hairline."
Brooke, a resident of Arbor Cove, told the Tidings the neighborhood did not have a clear idea of how massive this project would be when it was listed on a recent school district capital improvement bond approved by voters.
"The irritation here is that this whole process of the 'Vote Yes' campaign was pushed through in such a political nature. They didn't mention where the school would be, or how big this school was. They just said, 'If you support kids, and our schools ... vote for the two measures,'" he said.
Laura Stallard, a River Heights resident, has been an active voice against the construction. She said she thinks the bond measure was not clearly explained.
"In the joint district measure, everything came as a package deal. So people over at Wilsonville High School said yes to a new auditorium, without even knowing what the new Athey Creek Middle School campus would sit on, or who it would impact," Stallard said.
Another concern is traffic clogging up the once residential streets.
"This is already a congested neighborhood. I don't see at all how a school is supposed to fit in the middle of this," Stallard said.
After hearing about the proposed construction, Stallard and some neighbors joined forces to attend town hall meetings and sent a notice of appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals after the project was approved.
Stallard felt the district jumped the gun, especially since the appeal has yet to be approved nor denied.
"I don't really understand why they would start immediately because if it does not come to fruition, all of this devastation to the environment happened for no reason whatsoever," she said. "Also, they're spending taxpayer dollars on something that may not happen."
Andrew Kilstrom, director of communications, said the school district is aware of the appeal but will proceed with the construction of the new middle school. When the land use board reviews the official appeal, it can take upwards of a year to give a final verdict.
If the appeal is approved, the board will direct the district in next steps, which could include reforestation.
"The district is confident in the decision made by the city council and commission," Kilstrom said. "We will continue with the plan and the district is in full compliance."
District officials said they are confident the new middle school will not alter the steep ravine that borders the Arbor Cove neighborhood. The district plans to enhance the ravine with native plants, and additional trees will be planted to the north to act as a buffer area for some of the school's neighbors.
As construction continues, community members are strongly advised to heed the warning signs and avoid workers who are moving in and out of the site on machinery, Kilstrom said in a letter to the community. The construction team working on the site told Tidings reporters to keep a mindful distance away from the fence bordering the site. Although the gates are spaced from the actual construction, the team is working with trees that are 60 feet or taller.
The district expects to open the new Athey Creek Middle School in time for the 2023-24 school year.
"We want our families and community members to know that the site will look different as we prepare to break ground on the new school, and we are working thoughtfully with each area of the site to enhance or preserve the area wherever we can," Ludwig said.
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