An era begins with the opening of the new Bell Street Sandy High School

To kick off his 15th birthday Tuesday, Austin Miller strode into 37400 Bell St., and joined the class of 2016 at Sandy High School.

“It blew my mind,” Austin said. “I can’t believe I’m going somewhere this nice.”


Friday night, Gov. John Kitzhaber will join the Oregon Trail School District community in formally dedicating Sandy High School — a state-of-the-art, 310,000-square-foot building made possible by years of tireless community efforts.

“We’re excited for students to breathe life into the building,” Principal Tim Werner said.

The new high school, located on 82 acres the Oregon Trail School District had previously owned, has almost doubled the high school’s size and increased its student capacity to 1,600, with support space for an additional 200.

“This is just absolutely marvelous,” said Norm Trost, Oregon Trail School Board chairman. “This was built by the citizens 100 percent.”

In January 2007, The Oregon Trail School District’s Facilities Task Force unanimously recommended the building of a new high school on district-owned property.

The task force was aware the high school’s needs had outgrown its space. For example, math students were studying among the saws and drills in the woodshop room. Freshmen had to carry around their books all day because there weren’t enough lockers.

And, in the words of Kurt McKnight, a school board member, “general overcrowding created an atmosphere of kids who were always tardy for class, disorganized and frustrated.”

Facility Task Force survey results revealed 85 percent of parents and 68 percent of community members favored a bond measure to build a new high school.

The school board accepted the recommendations and discussed a November 2008 bond to fund a new school.

That June, the Sandy City Council passed a resolution to support a new high school, and that July, VOTE — Value Oregon Trail Education —a political action committee dedicated to getting a new high school built — debuted at the Sandy Mountain Festival.

School board member D.J. Anderson offered a call to action for the community in January 2008.

“In the next 11 months, we are going to be making decisions that are not going to affect one or two of our students in our district, not one or two hundred, not a thousand, but thousands of kids and in generations to come,” Anderson said.

“Whether you’re a parent or not, as far as I’m concerned, we are all parents in this community.”

In November 2008, voters in the school district approved the $114.9 million bond that would build the new $110 million high school and offer repairs and replacements at five other district schools, along with updated communications systems.

Community involvement revved up in early 2009, with focus groups, work groups and committees. Then came planning, designing and the selecting of Hoffman Construction and subcontractors.

High tensions arose when neighbors appealed the school’s conditional-use permit; however, that didn’t halt the groundbreaking of the Bell Street property July 7, 2010.

Over the next two years, construction of the school, overseen by Hoffman, provided jobs for hundreds of local construction workers, small businesses and Oregon-based contractors and vendors.

“I’m very proud of what the community has been able to do over the past five years,” Superintendent Aaron Bayer said. “It’s an amazing moment in Oregon Trail School District history, and great for the community to celebrate hard work and commitment to education.”

New age

The new Sandy High School is a high-tech, sustainable learning facility. Designed to be more energy and cost efficient, the space features natural lighting above the gymnasium through what are called clerestories, a displacement air system, an underground cistern that recycles rain and shower water and green roofs.

Kelly Rowland, site superintendent for Hoffman, likens the multilevel building layout to a village.

“At the main entrance are the administrative offices, or the government,” he said. This entrance also features a large, wood panel image of Mount Hood.

To the left of administrative offices is the athletic facility with seating for 1,800, and to the right is the theater with seating for 504, complete with an orchestra pit and marquee.

Next comes the commons, where students will gather for lunch and other meetings, and the “spine,” which houses the library and brings together the multilevel building with a stairwell.

Finally come the three classroom wings, or “living quarters,” with lockers, teachers’ lounges and study areas outside of classrooms. Each has a theme — water, forest and mountain.

“It’s a building that’s going to represent who we are for decades to come,” Anderson said. “Now we have something to be proud of — a dedication to education.”

Mitch Speck, executive director of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, a Sandy High graduate and a father of two daughters who went through Sandy High, said he thought the community needed a new high school in 1986 and described the new building like a college campus.

“A strong community includes strong businesses, strong volunteers, a government that’s responsive to the community and quality education,” Speck said. “Having the new high school gives us another tool to make sure our kids get the best education they can get. It’s not about the building, but the building does facilitate a higher level of learning.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s going to change the community,” he said.

Terry Lenchitsky, school board member, described this week as a dream come true that benefits the entire community. The high school is expected to become a hub for social events, education at all levels, activities, theater, music performances and athletic tournaments.

“We want to congratulate the community and ask for input about the old school so we can make a wise decision to utilize that property,” Lenchitsky said. “We want the community to share in that decision and tell us what they want it for.”

For right now, eyes are focused on the bright possibilities of the new high school.

Randy Carmony, school board vice chairman, added, “My hope is that it (the new building) brings us together and makes us more united at as a district.”

Austin Miller, the freshman, had one reservation about the first day of school: finding everything.

“At least everyone will be lost together,” he joked.

Along with joining the first freshmen class of Sandy High, he will break in the football field for the varsity team, playing wide receiver for the freshmen team Thursday.

Austin’s mom, Stephanie Miller, graduated from Sandy High in 1994 and couldn’t be more grateful her son is among the first students at the new school.

“We’ve been praying for this for a long time,” Miller said. “We’re very blessed to have this school.”

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