Woodland breaks ground on school

$64 million project will build new high school, elementary gym, more

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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The Woodland School District is ahead of schedule on the construction of a new $64 million campus.

As district officials gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday evening, dump trucks from Nutter Corp. had already started moving dirt onto the site on Dike Access Road where a new high school will take shape. Two weeks ahead of the planned start date for construction, contractors expect to complete the first of the campus's three phases by the end of summer.

Woodland's schools are facing a significant overcrowding problem, district officials say. In the past two decades, student enrollment has grown by about 2 percent per year. The district's current enrollment is around 2,200, but aging facilities -- most dating to the 1950s, others going as far back as the 1940s -- don't have the capacity, or amenities, to grow.

"Our aging high school is undersized and unequipped for (21st century) learning," Superintendent Michael Green said. "Currently, we can't fill all of our student body in the high school on the bleachers on the gym."

Twenty-two portable classrooms are used throughout the district, including 11 at the high school, Green said.

The money will also be used to en

hance safety and security at the high school. Instead of having several points of entry, the school will only have one.

Science teacher Jennifer Cullison, a nine-year veteran of Woodland High School, points to the lack of suitable science labs as a problem for the school. There are two labs for five science teachers.

Cullison doesn't teach in one of the labs. Instead, her science classes are taught in a normal classroom, which means her students have no sink, no gas burners and no ventilation.

"It really limits me in terms of how I can run my labs and some of the techniques I can use," Cullison said.

There are times when she has to move back and forth between her classroom and one of the science labs carrying water, or other items, because there's no sink in her room.

Overcrowding is nothing new.

Woodland's school officials have been trying to manage overcrowding at their schools for more than a decade. An early attempt to pass a bond in 2002 failed.

In 2004, voters approved a land-acquisition bond. With the money, the district purchased a 40-acre parcel to build a new high school in 2005.

In April 2012, district voters approved a $52.8 million bond to replace the current high school, along with an aging gymnasium at Yale Elementary School. The total price tag for the project is expected to be about $64 million, Green said. The district is receiving about $11 million from the state and will make up the difference itself.

Construction of the new school is expected to begin in October with a projected 2015 opening date.

Once a new high school is built, the old building will be repurposed, Green said. The district plans to shift its resources around when that happens, moving some of the younger students into the old high school.

"On multiple levels," Green said, "this will give us room for the kids we have now in all of our schools."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com