Hockinson Middle School replacement building ready for class

Construction timeline was ambitious even before hard-hitting winter

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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BRUSH PRAIRIE — After a hard-hitting winter, someone asked Hockinson School District Superintendent Sandra Yager about her Plan B if construction for the replacement Hockinson Middle School wasn’t done in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

“There is no Plan B,” she said. “We tore down part of our old school.”

The original plan was for the 85,000-square-foot replacement school, which is being funded thanks to a $39.9 million bond voters passed in February 2015, to open in 2018 partway through the school year. Robinson Construction officials asked before the project started if they could get access to the entire northern part of campus, the location of the replacement school. That way, instead of splitting the work into parts across the past two summers, the crew could work on the entire project starting in July 2016.

That meant Robinson could turn the school around a few months early and in time for the 2017-2018 school year. The first day of school in the new building will be Wednesday.

“It’d be so much more difficult for our staff to move in December,” Yager said. “You already have your routine set, and then it would’ve been like the start of a new school year.”

The past year was hectic, Yager said. To give Robinson access to the full campus, they had to knock down a play structure. A tent was put up outside for kids to play under, and the district put up temporary fencing outside the old building in the temporary bus lane, so recess was right outside the building.

“We have the broken window to prove it,” Yager said.

The new construction timeline was already ambitious before the winter hit. When it did, Hockinson canceled nine days of school, and crews had to slow down their work. Yager said the workers couldn’t do much of the masonry work at the school when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, because it was too cold for the mortar to dry properly. Crews put blankets over the work and used heaters, but there was still so much wetness around, it made work more difficult.

Damon Roche, capital projects manager in the district, said there were 90 days below 40 degrees during the construction process.

The district opted to start school a week later this year to give crews more time to get everything in order.

“Every day is critical,” Yager said.

When school starts on Wednesday, students will walk into a modern, open replacement middle school.

“I hope it gives the students a sense of commitment and belonging,” Yager said.

The new school was designed with versatility and collaboration in mind. It has four wings, each with four classrooms, a science lab and a bathroom. Three of the classrooms are connected with sliding walls. The walls also have panels of white board and tack boards, so students can use them to write on or hang things up.

“Every space can be a learning space,” Yager said.

Each classroom also has three screens, which students can connect to using their district-issued iPads for presentations.

Giving students spaces to collaborate on work was done to give them a glimpse of their future.

“We’re trying to give kids an opportunity to experience learning in a work environment, where there’s a lot of collaboration,” Yager said. “We wanted to build a school that is not outdated in 15 years. We built in a lot of flexibility.”

The media center also has a sliding wall to give classes space to work on their own, or it can open up for larger groups. Throughout the school, there are large windows allowing in tons of natural light.

“Even with the lights off there’s light coming in,” Roche said.

While the district is opening up the school earlier than expected, one section of the new middle school needs some work and won’t be ready for Wednesday. That part of the school contains the gym and band room, so students will head back to the old building for those classes for the time being. Yager said that part of the building could be ready in October. Yager said the teachers are excited to get into the new building, and are expected to start setting up their classes this weekend. She told them the start of the school year might be a bit bumpy, but not to worry.

“The first few days are all about getting kids into the building, getting them comfortable and starting to form those relationships with them,” Yager said. “Brick and mortar don’t do that. People do.”