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April 4, 2020

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New local schools chart fresh course

New facilities, such as Woodland High School, feature natural light, flexible spaces – even spin classes

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
4 Photos
Woodland High School sophomore Ashley Yoder participates in one of three spin classes offered at the school. School officials have wanted to bring the physical education class to Woodland for years and were able to when the new high school opened in 2015. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
Woodland High School sophomore Ashley Yoder participates in one of three spin classes offered at the school. School officials have wanted to bring the physical education class to Woodland for years and were able to when the new high school opened in 2015. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — John Shoup sounds like a proud parent when discussing the new 153,652-square-foot Woodland High School.

As Shoup, principal of the school, walks the hallways, he can hardly hide his excitement about all of the new features at the school, which opened in 2015. One second he’s talking about how larger windows on all of the classrooms give the school a more open feeling. Then his eye catches one of two shared activity areas, where students can study, work together, eat or simply lounge around on couches. As he’s discussing the shared activity space, he notices a tiny conference room that only students can use.

Shoup knew he lucked out when the Woodland School District board opted to construct a new high school.

“It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to build a new school,” Shoup said. “It’s part of the legacy we’ll leave here on this community.”

Woodland’s $62.6 million high school is one of the newest schools serving Clark County students, but not for long. The Hockinson School District and Washougal School District are in the middle of constructing new schools, while Vancouver Public Schools and the Ridgefield School District are turning to local residents for special elections in February in hopes they will approve bond measures that would give Vancouver $458 million and Ridgefield $78 million.

School officials in those districts have spent a lot of time thinking about what modern features they can bring to their respective schools to best serve today’s students, while keeping an eye on flexibility for the future. In Woodland, those discussions led to a sleek-looking high school that takes advantage of current technology.

A main goal of the new Woodland High School was to make good use of the space and get “good functionality” out of the building, Shoup said.

One new feature at Woodland High School, and one years in the making, is the spin room, which has 32 spin bikes. A few teachers at the school worked to get their spin certification, and now students can take a spin class as their physical education requirement. The teacher has a headset, so he or she can instruct the class while music plays. Videos, including shots of mountain biking, are projected onto the front of the classroom.

“With high school gym classes, you have classes that really cater to guys, like weight lifting,” Shoup said. “Some girls are comfortable around all those smelly guys and want to take a class like that. For others, we offer classes like women’s strength and conditioning and personal fitness, which the guys don’t really take. With cycling, we’ve crossed that barrier. We have girls and guys in every class, and everyone can set their bike at whatever difficulty they want.”

Woodland High School also has a new culinary arts class, with new kitchen equipment and a display table with an overhead camera, so students can observe the teacher’s instruction no matter where they’re seated. The school’s horticulture class has a commercial-grade cooler, easy access to the greenhouse and a gate that leads out to the street to make it easy to deliver supplies and equipment. The shop class has a new car lift, as well as space for students to weld and work with a plasma cutter.

“A lot of students find their passions at school,” Shoup said. “We worked with staff and the community to design a school that gave students all kinds of different options.”

Every classroom has an overhead speaker on the ceiling and a tiny microphone teachers can wear around their neck to make sure students don’t have to strain to hear. There is also LED lighting throughout the school, which means lower energy costs.

Joe Steinbrenner, facilities director for the Washougal School District, said the new K-8 campus, which is under construction, will look to conserve more energy.

“It’s a little more sophisticated than what we’re used to in the past,” he said. “We want to rely on a lot of daylight in classrooms and common areas. Our lights will sense light levels in the room and dim themselves if there’s already sufficient light.”

School officials also selected mechanical equipment that is eligible for energy incentives, and will monitor to see where the school’s larger energy uses are and try to control those.

During the excavation process of the new Washougal campus, the crew recovered eight boulders, which were arranged in a circle in an outdoor atrium between the two schools. Teachers will be able to take their classes to that area to have outdoor classes while students sit on the boulders.

Shared services

In the Ridgefield School District, Superintendent Nathan McCann said flexibility is important, so the school can evolve over time and so the district doesn’t double up on assets. Schools in the district share a performing arts center, so designs for a new 5-8 campus have a smaller theater.

He said it’s important to make sure the school can be used by the community.

“We want a return on investment not just from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but as close to 365 days a year as possible,” McCann said.

The new campus also will house two schools on the same grounds, a design idea multiple districts in Clark County use for a few reasons.

“The schools will have separated identities,” McCann said. “They will be two schools, but with shared services. That saves us on some costs. Another big advantage is with some minor modifications, we could make this into a 6-8 middle school.”

In Vancouver Public Schools, Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent for facility support services in the district, said plans for new schools will utilize a lot of hands-on learning opportunities, which help students develop skills they’ll need after high school. He said the district wants to add more spaces equipped with all kinds of tools and equipment, whether it’s art-related or construction-related. He also hopes to have a room for working with robotics.

“We want to turn learning into some real aspect, where students can learn about a topic and put that knowledge into use to make something,” he said. “A lot of our schools don’t have spaces for that kind of activity.”

Shoup said it’s important to work with staffers when planning a new school, and it’s especially critical to have someone who can make a decision after receiving all of the staff recommendations. It’s also important to make sure the school meets the immediate needs of as many people as possible, and the needs of the future.

“For this, we had to plan for beyond me and the rest of the staff,” Shoup said. “This is going to be here for 50-plus years.”

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