Open house puts a celebratory cap on St. Paul renovations at elementary and high schools

Community members poured into the hallways of St. Paul Elementary School on Sept. 13, greeted with the sight of how much work went into renovations that were completed just a week before.

The St. Paul School District held an open house last week, showcasing the results of years of planning and preparation that were put into upgrading the 25,504-square-foot building over the summer.PHIL HAWKINS - WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - St. Paul Superintendent Joe Wehrli shows off improvements to the elementary school gym during an open house last week.

The result was a feast for the senses for the more than 60 people who toured not just the refurbished elementary school, but the new auxiliary gymnasium adorned with bright blue "Home of the Buckaroos" lettering on the outside that can be seen from the parking lot and passersby on Highway 219.

"It's such a completely different tone within our school," superintendent and elementary school principal Joe Wehrli said to gathered community members in the gym before the tour began. "We still haven't talked to anybody about being loud in the hallway."

It's a sentiment that is echoed by the staff members at the elementary school. Instead of the usual cacophony of activity reverberating up and down the halls during the first week of school, students have been walking the halls in almost a hushed awe, amazed at the complete overhaul of the facilities that took place over summer vacation.

"If you had the opportunity to be in the elementary school that first day – it feels totally different than it did before," Wehrli said. "That first day they were very excited. We did an assembly in the gym and talked about it. When they walked out in the hallway, it just got quiet. Nice, neat lines walking the hall."

But perhaps a part of that tranquil atmosphere can be attributed to the new insulation that not just dampens the sound between classrooms, but also keeps the temperatures at reasonable levels.

Music teacher Anita Marble recounted how temperatures in her classroom would get down to between 50 and 60 degrees during the winter months. That classroom was located at the end of the hallway, but because of the design of the building, the music escaped from the room almost as fast as the heat.

"Music programs are very important, but it had an impact on this whole building," Wehrli said. "Because when they were playing music in there, with no insulation in these walls, you pretty much heard it everywhere."

But with the upgrades, the music program has been moved to the new auxiliary gym. Students now have to walk a few hundred extra feet to get there, but the results are well worth it. The music room has been expanded, is fully furnished, and because of its new location, there is not another classroom within shouting distance.

"That was part of our design," Wehrli said. "Giving them more space. They can be as loud as they want to be."

Besides the sound, look and feel of the building, even the smell is different. Wehrli recounted a conversation with high school principal Tony Smith, who noticed that the removal of the old carpet had an immediate impact. Now the elementary school has an almost new-car scent that permeates up and down the hallways.

"It helps the student have some school pride," Wehrli said. "(They're saying), 'This is my school. It's new and I'm going to take care of it."

The changes have had an impact not just among the student body, but among those who work there as well. The old music room has been converted to a new faculty room that is three times the size of the former facility. The former faculty room is now a personal study space in the office for students. The office has new flooring, countertops, open space and a room for sick students.

The open house was a victory cigar, a celebration of the combined efforts of the community members who got together and worked to make the renovations a reality. With the original elementary school structure built in 1961, the goal of the project was to eliminate the need for additional renovations for another 25 to 30 years.

Wehrli said he thinks they more than accomplished that objective. "This year we're starting out with a new St. Paul facility that is just as great as the parents and kids that we serve, and I'm excited about that," he said.

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