The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Schools off to good start despite construction issues


September 11, 2019

Sean C. Morgan

WORKERS from Briese Custom Concrete of Lebanon build the staircase to the main entrance at Holley Elementary last week as school swung into session.

Of The New Era

The construction work isn't all done yet, but school started on time last week for the nearly one-third of Sweet Home School District students attending schools undergoing renovation this summer.

School officials had to make plans to deal with different issues at each of the three schools.

"Opening day, things went really well, particularly for having two schools in the midst of completing construction and one school in the middle of construction," said Supt. Tom Yahraes.

The finishing touches on Holley and Foster Elementary will be complete by about November, while Sweet Home Junior High will remain under construction through next summer.

The district conducted seismic upgrades at Foster and Holley with $3 million in grant funding from the state, and the junior high is undergoing renovations and new construction using funds from a $4 million bond levy, a $4 million state grant and its Long-Term Maintenance Fund.

Foster and Holley each have a new secure entrance, and the junior high will have a number of upgrades, including a secure entrance, a new full-size gym, a new office area, new roofing, a new locker room and a new cafeteria.

"Taking on three schools in simultaneous construction and having them all ready to go at the beginning of the school year was a tall task," Yahraes said, but the district facilities staff, Gerding Builders and subcontractors had everything ready for students.

"School staff did a fantastic job of adapting to the different needs of each site," Yahraes said. "Each building had to have a unique operational plan."

Holley and Foster are awaiting new siding, he said. During the early summer, the district looked at the cost of siding going up. To reduce that cost, the district delayed the siding, which will be completed by a local contractor.


At Holley, contractors were busy opening day pouring new front steps. Facilities Director Josh Darwood said Holley still needed counter tops, and it still needs cabinets in the library along with a number of miscellaneous items.

It's about 90 percent done, said Principal Josh Dargis, who moved to Holley from Oak Heights this year. The building still needs a number of doors replaced.

With the front entrances closed, Dargis said, "we made some makeshift plans to have kids get into school safely."

The school used the exit in the new cafeteria, Dargis said. Contractors with Gerding and the district facilities staff made a trail around the building to the front area where parents could drop off and pick up their children.

"Everything went really smoothly," Dargis said. "All the staff was super vigilant, coming in early to keep an eye on kids."

The school office didn't immediately have phones, Dargis said, but the special education room did. The school placed one person there to answer incoming calls. The phones were ready to go within a couple of hours.

The cafeteria, which still needs trim and new doors, was ready to use, Dargis said. The school tried about three different ways to route the students and had it worked out by this week.

"The community out here, the families out here, just so welcoming and easy to get along with," Dargis said. When he arrived a week before school started to begin getting things ready, he found 10 people from the staff and the community already cleaning and preparing the school.


The Foster office had yet to be wired and remained mobile. Staff met students and parents in the new office and then moved to the school's stage in the cafeteria. A staff member remained in the office area to keep an eye on the front door.

The office was ready and staffed regularly beginning the second day of school, said Principal Luke Augsburger.

Damage from rain during the summer put Foster behind schedule a little, Yahraes said. Gerding had to make repairs in addition to the seismic upgrade project.

Classroom lighting there is temporary, he said. The district could have installed "cheap" lighting in the classrooms, but "we wanted to do it right."

That meant delaying the installation, he said, so the district decided to use temporary lighting the first week.

Now, for the next 20 to 25 years, "we're going to have nice lighting in there," Yahraes said.

The permanent lighting was scheduled to start going in on Tuesday, Augsburger said. He expected it to take a week.

"Things started beautifully," Augsburger said. "I would say we're 90 percent done with construction. We're working out the kinks."

The new parent pickup area behind the school wasn't open the first week while new concrete was curing, Augsburger said. He expected to begin using the area this week.

"It was fun to see the progress over the summer," Augsburger said. "The end product was really nice (thanks) to the effort that maintenance put in and Gerding too."

They put in a lot of long days toward the end of the summer to get the building ready, Augsburger said, and there were no major issues.

"We got a lot accomplished," Yahraes said. "Besides the cosmetic things, our schools are now safer."

In case of an earthquake, Holley and Foster will both be safer, he said.

The district also included bond-funded renovations at both schools, which provided the new cafeteria at Holley and reconfigured office space as well as the secure entrances.

The district completed similar projects at Hawthorne in 2018, and Yahraes said the district has applied for a $2.5 million grant to fund seismic upgrades at Oak Heights.

"We did a tremendous amount of work with a can-do attitude, adapting to the various situations that were thrown at us," Yahraes said. The district isn't completely where it would have liked to be, but outside of the siding, the work is now done at Holley and Foster.

Sweet Home Junior High

The district is "pretty much on target" at the junior high, he said, except that district staff wanted to have the bus loop and the driveway open by the time school started. During the first week, school staff parked at Hope Church and parents along 22nd Avenue.

That continued into this week for the parking, said Principal Colleen Henry. The bus loop was scheduled to open on Tuesday. Striping is scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week.

The contractors poured asphalt on Thursday, Sept. 5, Yahraes said.

Some construction work is now scheduled outside of the typical work day or on non-school days to control noise, he said.

Contractors are still working on the roof, which means noise levels are elevated inside the building, Henry said. It can be distracting, but as people get used to it, "it becomes white noise in the background."

Following the roofing, the contractor will go to work on the siding for the classroom wings of the building, Darwood said. The roofing ended up being later than the district had preferred. The cost was extremely high, and the district was working with the architect and engineer in August on more inexpensive options.

In the days before school started, Henry said, construction crews and staff members worked through Labor Day to get the building ready for students.

"It really demonstrated the commitment we have to our students and our community," Henry said. Three weeks before school started, people, including parents, students and staff members, were already pitching in.

"Custodial did an amazing job making sure we could be wheels up and ready for kids," Henry said. "I can't remember a time when I've seen this many people come together to make sure schools are ready to go.

"For the amount of work that went into it, the first week could not have gone smoother."

The effort and inconveniences will be worth it too, Henry said, noting that in each of the last three years, the roof has leaked in the main building.

The project still has work it'll need to complete during school, Darwood said, "but in the end it'll be amazing."


Enrollment after the first week of school was 2,309 districtwide, down from 2,322 at the same point last year.

Sweet Home High School was 691 students Friday, down from 724 last year.

The junior high was up 15, with 378 students. Oak Heights enrollment fell by nine to 273. Holley increased from 141 to 144. Hawthorne increased from 343 to 352, and Foster decreased by one to 331. Sweet Home Charter School enrollment, with grades kindergarten through six, increased from 137 to 140.

A sixth grade class at Foster and a fifth-grade class at Hawthorne are the largest in the district, with 32 students each. Hawthorne has two sixth-grade classes, with some fifth-grade blending, at 30 students.

Yahraes said those numbers will fluctuate in the coming weeks.

The district will continue to monitor the large classrooms, those in the 30s, and address them as needed.

Enrollment by Grade

2019 2018

K 177 163

1 160 171

2 165 174

3 188 187

4 190 181

5 187 179

6 173 180

7 182 201

8 196 162

9 164 200

10 191 161

11 158 194

12 178 169

Scott Swanson

STUDENTS and family members arrive for the first day of school at Oak Heights Tuesday morning, Sept. 3.

Enrollment by School

2019 2018

Foster 331 332

Hawthorne 352 343

Holley 144 141

Oak Heights 273 282

SH Charter 140 137

SHJH 378 363

SHHS 691 724

Total 2,309 2,322


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