CAMAS — The Camas school board approved plans Monday night to build a new 600-student high school on the recently purchased Sharp Laboratories of America property instead of on the current high school’s campus.
The Camas School District’s $12.5 million purchase went through this month, giving Camas the 55,000-square-foot lab building, at 5750 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., and 31.57 acres. The money for the purchase came from a $120 million bond voters passed in February.
The building, which is move-in ready, will become a middle school that focuses on project-based learning. It will open this fall to 60 sixth-graders and 60 seventh-graders, giving the district immediate and much-needed help with overcrowding at Liberty and Skyridge middle schools. Within five years, it could grow to approximately 400 students.
The bond plans originally called for a new project-based high school to be built on the current high school’s campus, and for the district to purchase land for future schools. The project-based middle school wasn’t on the table until the Sharp property was available.
“The acquisition of this property sets us on a new path,” board member Doug Quinn said.
Once the purchase became a possibility, the district started discussing building the new high school on the Sharp property. The district reconvened an advisory committee of residents, teachers, staff and students who met leading up to the bond vote. The committee suggested moving the planned high school to the Sharp property for a few reasons, such as forming synergy between the middle and high school programs and creating greater opportunity for outdoor learning.
“It makes more sense, with the schools being next to each other, as opposed to across town,” board member Julie Rotz said. “It will make for a comprehensive program.”
The board voted 4-0 in favor of moving plans for the high school, with board member Casey O’Dell out of town and unable to call in to the meeting. Board member Connie Hennessey wasn’t physically at Monday’s meeting, but connected by webcam and said she was in favor of building the new school at Sharp.
Project-based learning allows students to collaborate on complex questions, problems and challenges over an extended time. The projects cover multiple subject areas and typically address real-world issues.
The district also sought out public opinion on the move, sending out emails to staff and parents asking their opinion on building the school at Sharp. The district received 405 responses, with 311 (76.8 percent) voting in favor of the Sharp property. Of those 311 votes, 214 of them, or 52.8 percent of the total 405, strongly felt the new high school should go on the Sharp property. On the other side, 57 votes, or 14.1 percent, strongly felt that plans should remain on the current high school’s campus.
“The feedback we got was pretty compelling,” said Camas Superintendent Jeff Snell.
The district is aiming to open the new high school for the 2018-19 school year.