Members of public take tour of new plans for Sweet Home Junior High

Sean C. Morgan

From inside the Sweet Home Junior High School Library, Sweet Home School District Maintenance Supervisor Josh Darwood last week provided a virtual tour of the district’s plan for remodeling the school to members of the community who attended two public forums.

He described how that library would be opened up to a new cafeteria to the west and the common area outside the library, one of many changes planned for the school in the remodel that will begin next summer.

Sweet Home School District staff continued a review process for its upcoming remodel project at Sweet Home Junior High School Tuesday, Jan. 9, and Thursday, Jan. 11, during the two public forums, providing an opportunity for the public to give input about the design.

The School Board weighed in on a draft design Dec. 8 during its regular meeting. About 25 attended the Tuesday public forum and a dozen on Thursday.

Visitors were greeted with a pair of maps detailing proposals for the exterior layout of the property and plans for the interior of the school.

Outside, breezeways will be enclosed and converted into hallways, combining the two main buildings.

A new wall will cover the old and new parts of the school, said Supt. Tom Yahraes, ensuring that the old and new buildings do not look stitched together. Windows along the south side of the school will be enlarged, and the new wall will extend above the roof line as a parapet, obscuring the mechanical equipment on the roof.

The district has purchased a neighboring residential property on the corner of 22nd Avenue and Mountain View Road that will allow parents to enter the main parking lot from 22nd Avenue and exit onto Mountain View. Buses will enter and exit a bus loading zone from Mountain View.

The main parking lot will add more than 20 new parking spaces, Darwood said. An area in the bus loading zone is marked for future staff parking, and a road wraps around the west side of the school providing nutrition services access to the cafeteria.

The new cafeteria sits in the northwest corner of the school where the locker rooms are now and will provide more seating than is currently available. Windows, with bar stool seating, will provide a view across Sweet Home. The room will serve as a music instruction room and include storage for musical equipment. The room also will have acoustic paneling to help blunt noise levels.

“I’m really excited about this room,” said Supt. Tom Yahraes. The entire area can be opened up and shared with the library and common area.

The open library is something staff members saw a lot during visits to other schools, Darwood said. One library had no walls at all.

After demolition of the Basic Life Skills, cafeteria and art room, a second gym and locker rooms will be constructed south of the main gym.

New administrative offices will be nestled in the southern part of the courtyard between the gym and south hallway. Part of the courtyard will remain. The area will include a new main entrance to the building. The entrance will be locked with access granted to visitors by office staff.

The current administrative offices will become a new art studio, with windows to allow others to look in on art projects.

Secretary Toy Royer said she liked the idea.

“We hear about some of the wonderful work” students are doing, Royer said, “but we never get to experience it.”

A new “success room,” what once would have been called a detention room, counseling office and small group classroom are proposed off the south hallway in a converted classroom, Darwood said, but that will depend on overall project costs.

In addition, Basic Life Skills and a teacher’s lounge will be accessed from the south hallway.

“Something we miss at the high school,” noted Darren Perry, a math teacher at Sweet Home High School. “We cannot eat in the same room.”

That means staff members miss out on a lot of collaboration, he said. “You put a bunch of teachers in a room and you feed them, they’ll talk about their kids.”

Staff members at the Junior High don’t all take lunch at the same time, said Principal Colleen Henry, but the staff lounge will accommodate up to half of them at a time, allowing for that potential.

The design will provide a couple of additional classrooms.

Building infrastructure will be upgraded, and a slight pitch will be added to the roof to prevent rain water from puddling.

Staff members primarily heard comments and answered questions, but few suggestions for the plans.

Members of the audience suggested alternative placement of a couple of doors in the administrative offices, allowing students direct access to the counseling office and the principal quicker access to school. The principal’s office and the counseling office will face the parking lot, with an access through an office work area in the current plan.

Depending on what happens with the counseling office in the classroom conversion, the counseling office in the administrative area could serve as a space for the School Resource Officer when he’s at the school, Yahraes said.

“I’m going to start demolition before they’ve even picked the contractor,” Darwood said.

The district is operating on an aggressive timeline, Yahraes said, at least that’s what the architect has told him.

“That’s the way we roll in Sweet Home,” Yahraes and Darwood said.

Donna Short, a Sweet Home resident and member of Safe Routes to Schools Committee, noted that it’s a great opportunity for students to learn about architecture and construction.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the Central Office to consider approval of the design. From there, it will go through various refinements until construction documents are completed.

The district intends to complete construction documents, apply for permits and bid the project in September. Bids will be due in October. Substantial completion is scheduled for October 2019 and final completion in November 2019.

The project is funded by a $4 million bond levy approved by voters in May. In the process, the property tax rate for the bond fell by 2 cents this year although the life of the bond extends to approximately the same time as a bond approved in 2001 to reconstruct portions of SHHS. That bond had been shortened through refinancing.

The state provided a matching grant for the bond levy, raising the total funds available for projects to $8 million.

The majority will be spent at SHJH, but additional projects include secure entrance projects at Hawthorne, Foster and Holley Schools and infrastructure improvements at all four elementary schools.

The district is in the planning phase for the projects at Hawthorne this year along with a grant-funded seismic upgrade project. The district is planning the projects at Foster, Holley and Oak Heights for 2019.