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Camas School District closes on purchase of Sharp property

Building will be home to new project-based-learning middle school

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: July 4, 2016, 11:00am

The Camas School District’s purchase of the former Sharp Laboratories of America building and surrounding property is official, after the district signed closing papers on Tuesday and the deed was recorded later in the week.

The district announced it was working on the purchase in an email to parents in early June. The $12.5 million purchase includes the 55,000-square-foot lab building, 5750 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., Camas, and about 30 acres of land. The money for the purchase will come from a $120 million bond voters passed in February.

“With the acquisition of the Sharp property, we meet an important bond outcome: purchasing property for future schools,” Superintendent Jeff Snell wrote in an email. “The property also provides a building that can become a school at a fraction of the price of new construction.”

The Sharp building is move-in ready and will be home to the district’s new project-based-learning middle school. It will open to 60 sixth-graders and 60 seventh-graders starting next school year, giving the district immediate and much-needed help with overcrowding at Liberty and Skyridge middle schools. Within five years, it would grow to approximately 400 students.

Project-based learning allows students to collaborate on complex questions, problems and challenges over an extended period of time. The projects cover multiple subject areas and typically address real-world issues.

The purchase of the Sharp property could change some of the district’s plans for the bond money, part of which was marked for construction of a project-based learning high school on the current Camas High School campus, a replacement for Lacamas Heights Elementary School and purchasing property for future schools. Once the Sharp property purchase became a possibility, the district started floating the idea of building the new high school there instead, and creating a new project-based middle school to help with the crowd at both middle schools.

“In a bond package that promised two new schools, we’ll be able to deliver three for the same cost to our taxpayers,” Snell wrote. “That’s a huge benefit for everyone in the community.”

The district reconvened an advisory committee of citizens, teachers, staff and students who met leading up to the bond vote to discuss the new high school location. The committee suggested moving plans for the high school to the Sharp property for a few reasons, such as forming synergy between the middle and high school programs, greater opportunity for outdoor learning and helping to alleviate the usage of the current high school campus.

The school board will vote on the issue at its July 25 meeting.

The district sought out public opinion on the move, holding two listening posts where residents could come to the district and talk about their concerns, and sending out emails to staff and parents.

The emails asked people on a scale from 1 to 6 how strongly they felt about moving the future high school to the Sharp property. A vote for Option 1 meant the school should absolutely be built on the current campus and Option 6 was for those who thought the high school should absolutely be built on the Sharp property.

The district received 405 responses, with 311 (76.8 percent) voting in favor of the Sharp property. Of those 311 votes, 214 of them, good enough for 52.8 percent of the total vote, felt that the new high school should absolutely go on the Sharp property. On the other side, 57 votes, or 14.1 percent, voted for Option 1.

Columbian Staff Writer