Bracing for change

The McNary High School campus is about to get a lot busier.

Beginning later this month or April, Salem-Keizer School district officials are expected to start staging a multimillion dollar expansion of the Celtic’s school.

“Now that we’ve purchased the [church] property, we’ll start the mobilization. You’ll see the trailers and putting the longer lead-time materials like pipes hanging out in the area,” said Mike Wolfe, chief operations officer at the district.

The district recently came to a $2.26 million agreement with St. Edward Catholic Church to purchase six acres of land it needed to proceed with the expansion. The purchase and the new development project is being funded by a bond voters passed in 2018. McNary is one of five area high schools scheduled to expand with the goal of absorbing 200 additional students over the next decade.

Over the next 14 months, a new wing on the north end of the building will be home to 14 classrooms and a new construction-focused, career-technical education space and the front entrance of the building will be expanded and remodeled.

The day after staff leaves for the summer will mark the beginning of the most visible work on the existing campus.

“The whole north end of the building will be demolished,” said Erik Jespersen, McNary principal. “That will take out the tennis courts, the current music studio, a video production, a graphic design room and a computer lab.”

At the same time, seven new portable buildings, with two classrooms each, will be placed on the fields at the south end of the campus. A quadruple-wide portable unit will serve as temporary home to the weight room.

The campus will be an active construction site throughout the entire 2019-2020 academic year as the new wing in constructed and with the goal of opening at the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year.

“The disruption will be the students going out to the portables. The logistics of how that will work is big and still a work in progress,” Wolfe said.

Students in the graphic design and media production programs will be some of the most impacted. The current graphic design program serves as a computer lab, screen printing shop and photo studio all-in-one. The media space also serves multiple functions.

“We will have to be creative with some programs,” Jespersen said.

To help smooth out the rough patches, the district enlisted on-site design teams with the goal of troubleshooting before problems rear their heads.

“Working with the architects has been a godsend and marvelous. They asked really good questions and recognized that we are obligated to do certain things the bond pays for. There’s still a lot of creative decisions we were able to make in the process,” Jespersen said.

The new classrooms will not decrease class sizes, but might give some larger classes more breathing room.

Sometime between September of this year and May 2020, the main entrance to the school, on the south end, will also become a major work site. The space will become a new music and digital production room and a safer access point. 

“Right now, to check out a student, parents just walk into the middle of the building. That’s not best practice even though we haven’t had any problems. The main office will move to the front of the school and it will enhance school safety. It’s a different time than it was when the building was first built,” Jespersen said.

“The new process for checking in will foster relationships that will allow us to know who is coming in and going out of the building instead of watching from a remote location or watching a video feed,” said Lillian Govus, district spokesperson. “It’s going to be such a safer entrance”

In the summer of 2020, new softball fields and soccer fields will be constructed on the property formerly owned by St. Edward, and the south end of campus where the fields now are will be converted into additional parking with new traffic flow and drop-off patterns. (See related story, Page A9).

Govus said that any community groups and individual users of facilities like the football turf, track and other features of the school should expect to find other spaces between summer 2019 and the fall of 2020.

This summer, the McNary transition school for ninth graders, a credit recovery program and all business functions are being moved to the CTEC campus off Portland Road in Salem. Bussing will be provided.

While disruption is inevitable for all involved, Wolfe hoped Keizer residents would keep an eye on the bigger picture.

“The short term disruption is going to be worth the long term benefit. These are signature projects and McNary will look different in a very, very exciting way,” Wolfe said.