Gresham-Barlow committee plans for projected growth

Imagine planning the high school of the future, one that would remain relevant 100 years from now.

Neil Wong, a librarian at Barlow High, has been imagining this very thing for the past several months.

'We were trying to think ahead,' Wong says. 'We wanted to figure out how you make the school a part of the community.'

One way, at least according to leaders in the Gresham-Barlow School District, is to listen to what the community wants.

Earlier this year, district leaders appealed to more than 50 community members - parents, students, teachers, district employees, government officials and business leaders - to help plan the district's third full-service high school.

The committee has spent the past few months mulling over the logistics of building a new high school, and Tuesday, Oct. 24, they will unveil their final recommendations.

The school these community members have been planning isn't hypothetical. Gresham-Barlow leaders hope to pass a bond in 2008 to renovate the district's two older high schools and build a third, full-service high school, which they've dubbed 'the 21st Century High School.'

Athena Vadnais, district spokeswoman, says the need for a new high school is apparent.

'Enrollment in the district is predicted to increase by 4,000 students in the next 10 years, making it necessary for the district to begin the planning process for new schools and the renovating of existing schools,' Vadnais told committee members earlier this year.

The district's two main high schools are already beyond crowded. Last year, Gresham and Barlow were each at least 50 students over capacity and the smaller, newer Springwater Trail High School was only a few bodies short of hitting its maximum student load.

Enrollment in the Gresham-Barlow district continued to go up this year, especially in the high-school grades.

'Overcrowding is definitely a problem,' says Wong, the Barlow High librarian. 'The biggest problem here is not having enough space. There's not enough space at lunch for them to sit down, the classrooms are crowded and the kids don't have a place to plunk down and call their own.'

The planning committee considered every aspect of building a new high school, including classroom configuration, common areas, athletic programs and even the school's energy use.

Kim Hughes, a Gresham community member and principal of the Barnard-Hughes Group, also got involved with the high school visioning committee and says it is critical that a new high school fit into its natural environment.

'It is important to design a facility that … uses our limited resources wisely and has state of the art technology,' Hughes says.

Hughes says she got involved with the project to connect with the community.

'My work focuses on sustainable building practices and effective use of resources, such as energy and water,' Hughes says.

' … The facility design can take advantage of both indoor and outdoor learning opportunities and be of a design that students can learn from. The design should demonstrate renewable energy, daylighting and be as flexible and adaptive as possible.'

Hughes says she also feels that it is important to renovate the two existing high schools 'so there is a balance or equity between the high schools and so the community feels an education at any of the high schools is equally valuable.'

Charlotte Otto, a Gresham High student and visioning committee member, agreed with many of Hughes' goals.

'I would like to see a school that embraces its natural environment through its structure,' Otto says.

Wong said the committee talked about different ways of using the school as a community resource - everything from having a community library to using the stage for community purposes as well as student-run arts programs.

Otto says she hopes, as a student of today, that the high school will enrich the lives of tomorrow's students.

What does the high school of the future look like to Otto?

She says it will be a place 'that includes students of all learning backgrounds equally; a community that is like a second home for students; and a place where students are eager to learn and grow as people.'

New schools needed throughout East County

The Gresham-Barlow School District is not the only local school district that is dealing with burgeoning schools.

The Reynolds School District hopes to pass a $115 million bond in the Nov. 7 election to add classrooms at Reynolds High, build a new elementary school and make major renovations to three of its elementary schools, among many other things.

And the Centennial School Board recently approved the purchase of land for a future middle school and an elementary school.

In a unanimous vote, the board said it would authorize the district to purchase a 24-acre site and a 9-acre site near 170th Avenue and Foster Road.

'Combined, the parcels are large enough to locate both a middle and an elementary school,' said Wendy Reif, district spokeswoman.

The land purchases will cost the district more than $7 million, and the board hopes the public will pass a bond measure in 2008 to pay for the land and to construct a new school.

'The board wanted to lock up land now, before large parcels become scarce and more costly,' Reif said.

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