New Crestline elementary taking shape

Building to replace school destroyed by fire will be ready Aug. 1

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter

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Sites for Crestline Elementary School. Click to enlarge.

The construction site of the new Crestline Elementary School was a hub of activity Monday as heavy equipment and dozens of workers swarmed the property.

An all-terrain forklift moved materials into position. Men wearing safety harnesses stood on the roof and prepped the building before installing metal siding. Inside the 60,656 square-foot building, Richard Bergh with Carpentry Plus welded a handrail on the stairwell.

The school that was destroyed by a Feb. 3, 2013, fire is being rebuilt on an accelerated construction schedule and will be ready for teachers to move in by Aug. 1. Evergreen Public Schools plans a grand opening with Governor Jay Inslee the week before Labor Day.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives lab is still conducting the fire investigation, said Heidi Scarpelli, Vancouver Fire Marshal. ATF Fire Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., is the world’s largest research lab dedicated to fire science investigations.

“Let’s just say there’s movement,” Scarpelli said. “We’re processing some information we’ve received back from ATFE. We’ll know more maybe as early as next week.”

Evergreen Public Schools put the rebuilding project on the fast track in order to minimize the time Crestline students and staff spend in temporary facilities.

After the fire, about 500 students and 50 staff members were divided by grade level and sent to five elementary schools for the remaining four months of the school year. This school year, students and staff are housed at the temporary Crestline on the former Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street that is now owned by SEH America.

For the new school, the district has used the plan designed by LSW Architects on a handful of elementary schools, including Endeavour. Typically, the process of designing the prototype and bringing it up to current code takes 18 to 24 months, said Sue Steinbrenner, the district’s director of facilities. But in rebuilding Crestline, the district took only six months for that process.

Exactly six months after students, teachers and neighbors stood across the street and watched in disbelief as the school burned on Super Bowl Sunday, the community gathered at the fire site for the groundbreaking. From start to finish, the project will take only 11 months.

“We have momentum on this project like I’ve never seen before,” said Greg Scott, construction superintendent for Skanska, the lead contractor for the project.

The new school will have upgraded technology, security and fire suppression systems.

In February, around the time of the fire’s anniversary, many Crestline staff toured the construction site with Principal Bobbie Hite.

“It brought on a lot of excitement.,” Hite said. “The biggest advantage (of the new school) will be returning to our neighborhood. We’re really missing our community now.”

Hite listed many other advantages to the new Crestline. The larger building will allow all the staff to be under one roof. The old Crestline had one space that doubled as a gym and a cafeteria. The new school will have both a gym and a commons area, so that some students can be in P.E. class while others are eating lunch. Classrooms in the temporary school don’t have sinks, drinking fountains or ceilings.

“The teachers have learned to use their quiet voices. We’ve adapted to a noise level,” Hite said. “But we’re excited to have those things in our new school.”

Sixty percent of the dollars being spent on rebuilding the school are going to Southwest Washington contractors, Scott said. After the fire, workers removed tons of debris from the site, recycling 98.25 percent of it.

In the temporary Crestline, many teachers have posted photos of their new school during the construction process, Hite said. During a school assembly on Monday, staff and students sang “We Can Build It.”

“It’s a song about building character and being a good citizen,” Hite said. “But it has another meaning for us.”

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