Schools at the Heart of Communities: Grants Pass High School
October 3, 2009
Rebuilt school is community’s “pride & joy”
Grants Pass High School Project
- Deteriorating, outdated structures.
- Dangerous street separating school and athletic field.
- Avoid institutional 'sprawl.'
- Observe traditional values.
- Passed a $35 million bond.
- $.5 million grant from Grants Pass Foundation.
Grants Pass had a problem with its old high school: It was a hodgepodge of add-ons and re-dos. Even creative maintenance could no longer keep up with its deteriorating, outdated structures.
The street between the athletic field and the main entrance of the school was worrisomely busy.
When a dump truck lost its brakes and flew by campus, it was a harbinger of potential accidents to come.
To remodel or rebuild -- that was the question. A committee of school administrators and board members, community and business representatives, and parents studied the facility extensively, weighing the needs of a growing student population and the community interests.
“The community wanted a school that was welcoming, where it was easy to move from one building to another,” said Superintendent Steve Iverson. “They didn’t want one large, sprawling, institutional-looking building like so many other new high schools. They wanted a school that looked like Grants Pass.”
And they wanted to keep -- or recreate -- some of the favorite aspects of the old school, like its pit-style gym.
“The community also wanted the buildings to convey a strong sense of education in a traditional way,” said architect John Weekes of Dull Olson Weekes in Portland. That desire led to a design with classical influences, in brick, with separate buildings that resemble a college campus.
The local Grants Pass Daily Courier was a key partner in rethinking Grants Pass High. Newspaper representatives met with architects and teacher and administrator groups about the flow of classrooms, hallways and the campus overall.
“The newspaper provided excellent objective coverage of the entire process,” said Sherry Ely, the district’s safety officer. “They helped highlight unsafe areas and informed the community about our needs.”
The community showed its support for rebuilding the school by passing a $35 million bond that included funding for an elementary school. The rebuilding began in 1996 and was completed in stages.
“We’d build a new one and knock an old one down,” is how Iverson describes the phasing of new buildings. The final work was completed in 2000.
Ely pointed out that some creative thinking was required because of the phasing of the project. Classes were held in portables and elementary schools, when necessary.
The city worked with the district to change the contour of the street in front of the school to help slow down traffic. “We originally proposed that the road be vacated, but it was decided to make it more pedestrian-friendly,” Weekes said. A “speed table” -- a giant, 20-foot speed bump -- also slows motorists down.
Other pedestrian-friendly changes include moving parking to the perimeter of campus instead of in front of the school, and moving the entry of the main building to within 20 feet of the sidewalk instead of its old location in the center of campus. The school’s proximity to downtown and neighborhoods means students can walk to school and to after-school destinations.
Grants Pass High School received over a half million dollars from the Grants Pass Foundation, a community arts group, to enhance its new performing arts center. A large theater in the center seats 800 and a smaller one seats 100.
The center showcases community performances and conferences as well as the district’s strong instrumental music and choral programs. Community contributions continue to improve the center, which is booked a year in advance.
“It’s the biggest center in town,” Ely said.
“We invited the community in to see the new school before it opened to students,” Iverson said. “We were concerned that people might say we’d spent too much money on the project. In fact, it was just the opposite. The entire community was very pleased.”
Now Grants Pass residents bring out-of-town guests to see their school, Iverson said. The Chamber of Commerce touts the school as Number One Tourist Destination in Grants Pass.
As architect Weekes put it, “It’s their pride and joy.”