Crews are still working around the clock to get gyms, kitchen reopened

School district officials hope to have construction necessary because of the West Linn High School fire completed by the first week of December.

Since the Oct. 8 three-alarm fire, which started in the roof over the gyms, the school district has changed general contractors and accrued more than $2.4 million — and counting — in damages. The school district has paid out $280,000 so far.

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District initially worked with Cooper Construction and has since switched to a larger general contractor, Todd Construction, to handle the magnitude of the project. The school district also has its own construction manger and architects involved in the project.

“Todd Construction by itself is around $2.4 million and it will rise from there,” said Director of Operations Tim Woodley.

The school district has a $500,000 insurance deductible that will come from capital expenses, not the general fund. The school district’s insurance is covered through the consortium Special Districts Association of Oregon. Woodley said the insurance company has been a good partner so far.

The fire occurred when a maintenance worker was welding outside of the building and an arborvitae caught on fire from a spark. The flames then shot through an HVAC vent overhead. To access the flames, firefighters had to cut through the wall and the roof.

Though there is no real structural damage to the building, Woodley said, multiple infrastructural issues have been compromised, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing. There are also some wood beams that were charred by the flames that needed reinforcing.

The area primarily impacted by the fire was the roof above the kitchen between the auxiliary gym and the main gym. Smoke engulfed the entire building and water from the fire sprinklers and hoses penetrated down three floors. Yet school was closed for just one day following the fire.

“We had this significant event and only lost one day of school,” Woodley said. “To keep operating for 1,500 kids, that’s a pretty amazing thing by itself.”

Due to construction, the parking spaces at the front of the high school have been blocked off for school buses. Despite round-the-clock construction crews, the main gym, the auxiliary gym, the dance studio and the kitchen remain closed.

The kitchen received the bulk of the damage. Woodley said the kitchen machinery was salvaged, but the facility had to be gutted for workers to access the walls and to be cleaned.

Once the kitchen ceiling, floor and walls are finished, the kitchen machinery will be re-installed. For now, cold sack lunches are being made for students on site at the high school snack bar.

The good news is there was little damage to the wood flooring in the gyms and the dance studio. Rob Holstrom, assistant principal and athletic director, said wellness and education classes have been flexible but are affected by the closure of the main gym and auxiliary gym.

The weight room was returned to students in the middle of October. Initially after the fire, physical education classes met outside until the rain hit. Now students are meeting in classrooms and the commons area.

“Committee by committee we’re trying to piece it all back together,” Holstrom said.

Administrators thought the auxiliary gym would be open as soon as last week. However, Woodley said, the paint and floor finish had some “inconsistencies” and it could be a few more weeks before the gym is open.

“I expect the contractor will be done by the first week of December,” Woodley said at the school board meeting on Nov. 5. “The goal is to get the main gym and locker rooms back for basketball.” However, Woodley is quick to note the December timeline is a goal.

In addition to displaced curricular classes, co-curricular programs such as the volleyball team, cheerleaders and dance team have been displaced. The volleyball team has split their practice and game time between Rosemont Ridge Middle School and Wilsonville High School.

The cheerleaders’ mats were also destroyed in the fire. The team has been practicing on the mats at Lakeridge High School.

“The Lake Oswego School District has been very accommodating,” Holstrom said.

Holstrom called the dance team “road warriors,” as the team has practiced at Athey Creek Middle School, Wilsonville High School and both Stafford and Willamette primary schools.

The batting cages and classrooms have been turned into temporary locker rooms for at home basketball and cross country competitions. The locker rooms are a little closer to completion than the gym, Woodley said.

Winter practice started Oct. 12, which means seven basketball teams, a wrestling team, cheerleaders and dancers all need to be housed. Holstrom said the wrestling mats and room is not damaged — yet still inaccessible — and that the cheerleaders and dance team will continue to be flexible.

Girls basketball is skirting the construction deadline a little closer. The girls team will host the West Linn Tip Off Tournament Nov. 30 through Dec. 1. The school is hosting three away teams and Holstrom said the school has developed a “somewhat problematic backup plan” involving the auxiliary gym and Rosemont Ridge Middle School in case the main gym isn’t finished.

“I’ve been meeting with the construction people; they know about the tournament,” Holstrom said. “We’re trying to make sure they get it all done on time but we don’t want to be caught off guard and not have a plan.”

Woodley said construction is complicated by unforeseen damages and the electrical complexity of the project.

“As we try to eradicate the odor of smoke and presence of water in various hidden places, the discovery of damage continues,” he said. “West Linn High School is a very modern, complex building and the fire compromised main components of the building.”

Woodley cited a laundry list of electrical equipment including the scoring equipment and sound system in both gyms that need to be replaced.

The fire alarm system has also been compromised. Because of which, the school must provide real people, in groups of two to three at a time, providing 24-hour fire watch when the fire alarm isn’t working.

The security guards walk a prescribed path throughout the entire building looking for signs of smoke or fire. Woodley said the fire watch is required by Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the city of West Linn.

Despite the unforeseen damage and continued construction, Woodley said the project is being managed within a timely manner to maintain costs.

“The project is well managed and we are moving very smoothly,” he said. “People are being very patient and soon it will just a piece of history of West Linn High School.”

Contract Publishing

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