July 24, 2001
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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© 2001
The Nugget Newspaper
Sisters, Oregon
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Sisters officials study school design options
By Jim Cornelius

With $20.5 million to spend, Sisters school board members, staff and architects have gone shopping for high school designs.

They visited several schools in the Portland/Vancouver area last week, then hit the road to Boise, Idaho, to examine some snow-country designs.

"We had a chance to see some different designs and different materials and saw how some configurations might look," said school board member Glen Lasken.

The award-winning Parkrose High School in Portland made quite an impression because of its unique layout. At Parkrose, there are no long hallways lined with classrooms; the school is wide open and "wall-less" with classroom "pods" adjoining common areas, allowing a free flow of students and staff between classes.

Some educators consider the layout is conducive to interactive study.

Some board members and staff embraced this "cutting-edge" design wholeheartedly, while some thought it would have to be adapted.

While Glen Lasken thought the layout had promise, "it went beyond what we were willing to do."

However, board chair Heather Wester said, "I could have taken Skyview High School and brought it home."

The different impressions gained by board members and staff are indicative of the complexities of designing a school. Architect Scott Steele has been consulting staff to get a detailed picture of specific educational requirements.

But there are lots of ways to meet those requirements and a wide variety of choices to make.

There seems to be a consensus among the school officials to create an open "commons" area to act as a kind of hub for the school.

Discovery Middle School in Vancouver uses the common cafeteria area as a foyer for the gym and theater areas.

That's a concept long advocated by board member Steve Keeton, who believes it is the most efficient use of space and will also cut down on construction costs by reducing the number of restrooms required.

Lasken said he was impressed by the creative use of cinder block construction in Vancouver and Boise. The materials are durable, yet, according to Lasken, good use of color and soft lines kept the schools from looking cold and institutional.

The school visitors talked to custodians, coaches and teachers and got feedback on what works and what doesn't (nobody likes big windows in gyms). Lasken said the architects saw some good roof designs in Boise that can handle snow.

Board members looked at carpet and linoleum surfaces, and details of color. Gradually, a vision for Sisters High School is taking shape.

"You pick up all these bits of information from all the schools you look at and it all comes together," Lasken said.

Lasken said that the board is "heading toward a one-story school."

With a large building envelope available, there is no need to cram the building in to a narrow space, he said. One-story construction should be less costly and Lasken believes that, with the projected size, the facility will still be compact.

"It won't be a sprawling Pentagon thing," he said.

The board will meet on July 30 at 11 a.m. at the Sisters School District Offices to debrief on the school visits and meet with Steele to continue the preliminary planning for the facility.

Board members and staff plan to visit several more schools in the coming weeks.

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