Vernonia stakes future on new school

Vernonia stakes future on new school

By Robin Doussard

On June 27, the first wall was raised on Vernonia's new K-12 school, which is sited on 32 acres above the town where Spencer Park had been located. 
// Photo by Justin Tunis

In the winter of 2007, a series of Pacific storms unleashed their fury on Vernonia, a small town in rural northwest Oregon that sits on the Nehalem River. The river crested seven feet above flood stage, and the ensuing flood swamped nearly half of Vernonia’s homes, one third of its downtown buildings, the town’s sewer and electric systems, community health clinic, senior center and food bank. The entire school district — elementary, middle and high schools along with the Head Start building — was left in ruins.

The damage to Vernonia’s property was estimated at $113 million. The damage to Vernonia’s soul was incalculable.

How could this tiny community survive such loss? There were some who believed it could not. But there were many more who believed this was exactly the moment — when Vernonia was on its knees — to re-invent this struggling town surrounded by lush forests, streams and parkland, and in those places plant a future.