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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Camas school board weighs how to use former UL property

57.6-acre site with building presents many possibilities

By , Columbian Staff Writer

CAMAS — It will likely be a few years before the Camas School District develops the former UL property, but Superintendent Jeff Snell wants the school board to start thinking now of the possibilities for the site.

The school board hosted a daylong planning session Monday to discuss items for the upcoming school year. One topic on the agenda was a closer look at the 57.6-acre UL property the district purchased for $12 million in June, which includes a 114,800-square-foot office, at 2600 N.W. Lake Road. The consumer electronics testing, evaluation and certification service, formerly known as Underwriters Laboratories, opened in Camas in 1994 and moved to Vancouver earlier this year.

The district doesn’t plan to knock down the UL building, but beyond that, much is still undecided.

Members of the capital programs team led Monday’s discussion to show board members the versatility of the space. Heidi Rosenberg, director of capital programs, and Chuck Stiller and Cathy Carlson, both project managers, sat with the board while they looked at a map of the UL site and adjacent Skyridge Middle School.

Each board member was given cutouts of amenities at Camas High School, and asked to build their ideal vision for developing the UL property. While the UL property is larger than the 50 acres the high school sits on, the UL building is less than half the size. Camas High School is about 242,000 square feet, Rosenberg said.

“Everything we have at Camas High School, we could have at this site,” said Connie Hennessey, vice president of the board.

The components board members looked at were the main high school building, a football field and track, varsity baseball and softball fields, junior varsity baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, a soccer and lacrosse field, a bus loop, and parking lots for students, staff and guests.

Board members shared differing ideas on how to fill the property, from plopping down a main school building to building an addition onto the UL building. Others created a baseball and softball field complex; tore up the main school building to create smaller, separate buildings; or used adjacent land at Skyridge to put down some sports fields.

Because the district owns both properties, Stiller said it could place some amenities on the property line or on the Skyridge property. Using the Skyridge space would also allow for practice and junior varsity fields. Some board members wondered if that many fields are needed, or if teams could share them.

“Sharing fields is not as easy as it sounds,” Stiller said. “Sharing takes caring and lots of planning.”

Parking was another topic discussed. The UL site currently has 263 parking spaces, Rosenberg said. Camas High School has nearly 800. Board member Tracey Malone said that however the site is developed, it needs to have additional parking, as well as a bus loop.

Although the board spent the exercise thinking about the space in terms of another full high school, there’s no guarantee that’s what will end up there. Stiller said the exercise used the high school because it’s the biggest building the district has built — and would likely try to build again.

“If (a high school) fits here, anything we’d do would fit,” he said.

Board members also discussed using the UL building to foster partnerships with local businesses. One reason district officials don’t want to tear it down is because it has existing warehouse space, storage and labs. Snell said possibilities for the building could be to make it part of an east county skills center, or use it as an incubator space for smaller businesses or for high-tech manufacturing training.

The district is going to start looking for partners for the building, too. Because there aren’t plans to use it right away, the district must declare it as surplus. The next step is to look at partners to potentially lease some of the building space on a short-term agreement. Snell said the ideal partner would be a company willing to work with students or provide some training opportunities.

“Our hope is to show that we can do almost anything at this site,” Snell said. “It might take five or six years to get with formal planning, but we have an opportunity to take time. It’s a rare position to be in.”

There isn’t an immediate need to fill the property because the district has opened three new buildings in recent years, including Lacamas Lake Elementary School for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. The other two schools house Camas’ project-based learning program and are on property the district purchased at the former Sharp Laboratories of America site. Odyssey Middle School opened in the former Sharp building, and Discovery High School was built next door.

The district finished the last school year with about 7,200 students, Snell said. Growth projections for the district anticipate a baseline enrollment of 8,200 in 2025, or up to 8,900 students if all possible residential zoning is developed. The same projections have Camas’ baseline enrollment at 8,500 in 2030, and up to 9,400 with a full build-out.

Snell said the district will seek community feedback in the coming years before deciding on how to develop the property.

Columbian Staff Writer