‘Conversation’ begins about new Woodland high school

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Woodland High School is more than 50 years old, holds a quarter of its classes in portable buildings and fails to provide students the technology to succeed. Despite these shortcomings, officials say, convincing residents to back a bond to pay for a new high school will be an uphill climb in these dark economic times.

Woodland School District members will begin “a conversation” during Monday night’s meeting they hope will act as a baseline for future progress in bringing the city a new high school.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the district’s portable meeting room at 800 Third St. While the discussion is not a public hearing per se, audience members will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the high school quandary, officials said.

Where talks about a new high school go after Monday night is anyone’s guess.

“The board recognizes we can’t hold off on this forever,” Woodland Superintendent Michael Green said. “We want to re-engage in a conversation. At this point in time, it’s nothing more than that.”

Woodland High School was built in the mid-1950s with a capacity of around 500 students, Green said. The city’s growth in the ensuing decades has pushed high school enrollment toward 600. Eight of the school’s 32 teaching stations are located in portable buildings.

The school’s auditorium cannot hold the entire student body, Green added. More troubling, the school’s campus has not been updated to take into account post-Columbine school safety changes.

The Woodland School District purchased 40 acres of land seven years ago near Dike Access Road in hopes of building a new high school. Whether a future high school would be built on that land or whether the high school would remain at its current location, 757 Park St., remains to be seen.

In addition, it is unclear whether the school board will seek a bond in 2012. The school board last sought a bond in the spring of 2008, which would have provided classroom space for 900. That measure failed.

The new high school push temporarily got placed on the back burner in light of economic hardships and declining enrollment, school board member Jim Bays said. The board has decided the issue cannot be put off any longer.

“I think it would be a big surprise if we were to abandon it,” Bays said, adding he had no other predictions for Monday’s meeting.

City residents must also grapple with whether a new high school is something they are willing to pay for, Councilman Benjamin Fredricks said. Fredricks, who has two school-age children, said he supported investing community dollars into the building of a new high school.

“It’s a very important decision for Woodland,” Fredricks said. “It’s something desperately needed for the community.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http:// www.facebook.com/raylegend; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.