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Oct. 1, 2022

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Wy’east’s wide open spaces in east Vancouver

Spacious new school built for student comfort, security to welcome pupils back

By , Columbian staff writer
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Construction is nearing completion and administrators have started to move in at Wy'east Middle School.
Construction is nearing completion and administrators have started to move in at Wy'east Middle School. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Just a few short months ago, students said goodbye to the original façade of Wy’east Middle School, one of the oldest middle schools in Clark County. Days later, the building was demolished.

When the students return to classes in a few weeks, it’ll be as if they stepped into the future.

“I just can’t believe this,” said Evergreen Public Schools Communications Manager Mike Tokito, gawking at the open space of the new student commons. “I don’t know how they put this up so quickly.”

Like the work being done across town to build a new Mountain View High School, the newly built Wy’east Middle School is among the final pieces to Evergreen’s $695 million capital facilities bond measure passed by voters in 2018 that renovated and rebuilt several schools across the district.

The new building, which has been under construction since late 2020, prioritizes safety, security and student comfort in its design. Also like the new Mountain View, Wy’east’s layout features a single point of entry and gated courtyards in an effort to do away with the previous California-style layout with multiple buildings and points of entry that was featured in a number of Evergreen’s older schools.

Mixing calm and curiosity

To students, the interior of the new building should feel much more relaxed and spacious, said Sue Steinbrenner, Evergreen’s executive director of facilities.

“When you make the hallways too narrow, kids bump into each other. If it feels tight and cramped. It irritates kids,” Steinbrenner said. “The building has a huge influence on how people feel throughout the day, which for middle schoolers needs to be really supportive.”

The student commons, where a cafeteria area spills into a gated courtyard, fills the school’s most travelled corridor with natural light. Wide hallways feature mobile desks and chairs on the sides and built-in seating where students can socialize and do group work outside the confines of a classroom throughout the day.

In an effort to increase engagement and participation in the district’s Career and Technical Education programs, the school’s workshop and culinary program classrooms lie in the center of the building, with interior windows to the hallways and commons.

“In middle school (career programs) are very exploratory,” Steinbrenner said. “Those big windows feature those programs rather than shoving them in the back of the school.

“We wanted kids to spark a little curiosity and wonder what’s going on in there. If we can catch them and get them interested in those trade-like careers early on, that’s really great.”

The culinary room, which Principal Kate DeWein references as her favorite space in the new building, features a dozen or so built-in ovens and stovetops for student use, as well as an isolated space for teachers to lead demonstrations.

“The (culinary) room is really something else. I think about middle school being a chance to sample a wide variety of electives and those rooms in particular,” DeWein said. “Our students deserve a facility like this.”

The final stages

Still to be completed on the north end of the school is a new bus turnaround area, which is in the process of being excavated and paved. Behind the school will be a new soccer field, but that space won’t be finished until later into the 2022-2023 school year, said Steinbrenner. Students will still be able to use the football field and track northwest of the building throughout the year for physical education classes until then.

Because of luck in their timing of bidding on materials and finishing final designs, Evergreen was able to dodge the struggles of supply chain delays that have plagued several construction projects in Clark County and beyond since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contractors were able to cut costs by salvaging the original school’s 15,500-square-foot gymnasium, which is also among the handful of elements being completed in the final weeks before the school year.

Altogether, Evergreen officials estimate that the new building cost around $54 million after tax.

Though she’s been working alongside administrative staff in the new building since June, DeWein, who worked as an associate principal at Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School before coming to Wy’east in 2020, said it won’t feel real until the students join her this fall.

“I remember working on the opening day at Henrietta Lacks when all the kids came in and seeing their faces. I think it will be really meaningful for them to see the space that’s being dedicated to them,” DeWein said.

“I’m so lucky, I’m really lucky to have this experience again. It’s been rewarding to work with this team. This opening will be a day I remember for a long time.”

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