Not a hospital — a high school for medical careers

$23.7M HeLa High under construction near PeaceHealth

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

A passing glimpse of the three-story high school rising just north of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center might give the impression the hospital is expanding its Vancouver campus.

That isn't the case, but it supports the design intent of the $23.7 million school now under construction at 9105 N.E. Ninth St., off Northeast 92nd Avenue. The careers-oriented high school is designed to look like a medical office, according to Casey Wyckoff, a principal of Vancouver-based LSW Architects PC, hired to map out the project for Evergreen Public Schools.

"It looks more like a hospital environment than a high school," Wyckoff said of the magnet school, named the Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School after a young woman whose cancerous cells helped launch the biomedical research field in 1951.

The now-thriving industry prompted school officials to plan for Clark County's future with the school project, also one of the area's largest active construction sites. It employs an average of 50 to 55 workers per day, said Cory Zonich, the project manager from general contractor, Skanska USA Building Inc.

"It varies every day, depending on what's going on," he said.

Zonich said the work prompted contracts for about 58 subcontractor firms, companies that specialize in everything from plumbing to painting and landscaping. With fewer such projects in the works, the development makes a difference to the local economy, said Mike Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association.

"The bidding environment is extremely competitive," he said.

It has been at least five years since the Evergreen district finished its last high school project. The lucrative, 2007 round of construction projects included the $67 million, collegiate-style campus of Union High School and a $40 million makeover of Evergreen High School, the district's oldest secondary school.

Unlike the 40- to 50-acre campuses of district high schools Union, Evergreen, Heritage and Mountain View, the new health and biosciences high school is being built on a 3-acre campus, said Sue Steinbrenner, the district's director of facilities. Paid for by a $1 million capital grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce and approximately $10.5 million in state matching money, the remaining cost of the building was financed by impact fees, school construction bonds and proceeds from other land sales.

The Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, nicknamed HeLa High, will have specialty classrooms designed for topics such as biomedical engineering, nursing services, health informatics, pharmacology, biotech, microbiology, chemistry, advanced biology and physics.

But it won't have an outdoor track, football field, tennis court or baseball diamond. It will serve about 500 students.

It won't have acres of asphalt-topped parking, either, Steinbrenner said.

Instead, the campus will include a bare-bones minimum of about 100 parking stalls for staff and visitors, she said.

"We can't have the students drive cars to school," she said.

The concept imagines a future in which high schoolers walk or ride public transportation to school, although the district intends to bus students from all over the district.

The school is set to open at the start of the 2013 school year for freshman and sophomore students only, gradually filling up to be a four-year high school by 2015, Steinbrenner said. She explained that the school wasn't built to replace any high schools, but to capture the overflow from the district's other four high schools.

HeLa High will be open to any ninth- and 10th-grade students who wish to apply, she said. It won't be exclusive to those who make the top grades.

Zonich expects construction to finish in early 2013.

Cost savings

Steinbrenner said district officials estimate it will cost approximately $3 million per year to operate and maintain HeLa High's 69,000-square-foot building, compared with a typical $9.6 million budget for a conventional high school.

"That's because there's a lot less square footage to maintain," she said.

The district's comprehensive high schools house between 1,800 and 2,000 students in between 230,000 and 265,000 square feet.

Evergreen Public Schools in December paid approximately $3.5 million to buy the site, part of a 17-acre tract acquired by Southwest Washington Medical Center. The hospital, which became PeaceHealth Southwest in December, spent seven years and nearly $17 million buying up nearly 70 houses that lined the north and east sides of its Mill Plain Boulevard campus in the North Garrison Heights neighborhood.

Many of those homes have been removed.