|| Print ||
|Wednesday, August 22, 2012|
BY ROBIN DOUSSARD
Finally, the day had come to savor the victory. It had been five years of uncertainty, fighting, wrangling, and putting up with going to school in some pretty sorry conditions. But after five years of herculean efforts by the community, supporters, funders and others, Vernonia’s new K-12 school was christened on Tuesday.
Up out of the flood plain where the old schools existed, this $40 million beauty stands high and proud, a rebuke to the 2007 flood that devastated the old schools and to those who said Vernonia should just call it quits and bus their kids to another district. Call it quits and take the lifeblood out of the town, give up on its gathering place, its children, and its largest employer.
The town did not give up and it also had an ambitious idea: link the school to the town’s economy and “build it back better” so that it wasn’t just a school, but a catalyst for a new green economy of the future, focused on studies relevant to its rural students, partnering with universities, and buying local biomass.
But on this day, it was all about the here-and-now reality of a beautiful new school and it was a day to savor. Kids, parents, teachers and a load of officials and invited dignitaries wandered the halls, eyes wide and smiles wider, admiring the airy, vaulted citadel that was built to achieve a LEED platinum rating with daylighting, wood-based thermal energy system and other sustainable features. The 135,000-square-foot school has room to grow to 1,000 students.
It came alive when some of the 580 students who will begin school there on Sept. 4 rushed in after the ribbon-cutting, ran up the steps, roamed the hallways and looked through the rows of lockers. Finally, real lockers for high-schoolers who had lost them to the flood five years ago.
"It's a very cool day," said Dan Brown, a community leader and owner of the Grey Dawn Gallery in town.
For a town used to getting media coverage only for its several natural disasters, it was a moment in the sun as the press from Portland and the surrounding area showed up in force to cover the event. Everyone was happy to be quoted about the gleaming school.
The town turned out in force along with those officials who helped get the school built, including Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Ford Family Foundation CEO Norm Smith, state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, Secretary of State Kate Brown, Oregon Senate president Peter Courtney, Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde, Neil Kelly CEO Tom Kelly, and new state education czar Rudy Crew.
But it was Sen. Betsy Johnson from Scappoose who got the longest, loudest applause and the standing ovation. Johnson was crying before she made it to the microphone, calling Vernonia a "gritty little don't-take-no-for-an-answer town” that would not call it quits, passed a local taxing bond to help finance the school and then with a large coalition of the willing, proceeded to make the school a reality. School superintendent Ken Cox called the school “a story of faith.”
There is still a $3 million funding gap for the school, which was borrowed to get the school open on Sept. 4. "But it's not $3 million, it's $5 million to $6 million," says Hyde, ticking off a list of things that still need to be built such as the art center, a wood and metal shop, a football field. “There is still much to get done.”
With the adults were blabbing on about FEMA and ODOT and bond funding and the future, they were seriously missing the truly best thing about the new school. Said ninth-grader Breanna Gardner: "People won't make fun of us anymore when they come to our games."
Robin Doussard is the editor-in-chief of Oregon Business. To read her October 2011 cover story about Vernonia, "Build a school, save a town," click here.
|A Complex Portrait: Immigration, Jobs and the Economy|
|Woman of Steel|
|Kill the Meeting|
|Price of already-built homes in Seattle area drops|
|Apple hits record-high value|
|Fed's ability to regulate questioned|
|Budweiser to move away from Clydesdales|
|Mergers lucrative for departing CEOs, but not necessarily shareholders|
|Senators ask, but get no real answers regarding safety from air bag executives|
|Senate investigation says Wall Street misused commodities businesses|
Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
Plenty of employers seem “dazed and confused” after the recent vote to legalize marijuana. In light of Measure 91 passing, what are some issues for private-sector Oregon employers to consider?
Rotary’s Oregon Ethics in Business aims to raise consciousness about business ethics by honoring exceptional companies.
Barran Liebman’s annual employment law seminar is an industry classic.
Is my drug-free workplace policy up in smoke?
More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.