News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Elementary school nears completion

Sisters' new $33.8 million elementary school is substantially completed. There's a lot of finish work yet to be done, but the Sisters School District has a scheduled move-in date of June 24, with keys handed over July 15.

The project is on time and on budget, though there have been some alterations due to increased construction costs. The gym is a little smaller than originally planned, and a planned roll-up door to the outside of the library was scrapped in favor of a large window. However, the gym remains expansive, striped for activities ranging from dodgeball to pickleball, and capable of holding two physical education classes at the same time. The gym is expected to be well-used.

"That's the biggest request in wintertime," said Superintendent Curt Scholl. "That's the biggest request all the time is gym space."

Scholl led members of the citizen Bond Oversight Committee on a tour of the facility on Tuesday, June 4.

The facility has all-LED lighting, and wood trim accents are featured throughout. The wood came from a closeout consignment and represented a good deal for the district, adding warmth and visual interest without busting the budget.

"Even though it looks expensive, it's not," Scholl said.

The security vestibule at the school entrance will require visitors to stop and sign in before being let into the school.

Project Manager Brad Hudson, who works for the school district, demonstrated how classroom doors can operate in unison, in case of emergency.

"This door swings open and connects to a maglock that is tied to the fire system, so when we hit a panic button or have a fire, this (magnetic lock) releases and this door shuts," said Hudson. "It creates a smoke and airflow deterrent for a fire. Also, if there's a bad person in the building or if there's something wrong, we can shut the doors and shelter in place."

Mark Kelly, chair of the Bond Oversight Committee, reflected on the need to enhance security.

"I've been following school construction for 35 years," he said. "The biggest change is all the security stuff."

Kelly is an attorney, who specialized in representing school districts in school construction matters. He is satisfied with the process for the construction of the new school.

"It's been a very clean project, and the prices have been under control," he said.

The SES greenhouse, which had been eliminated at one point due to cost, is back in, according to Scholl. 

Dedicated second-floor classrooms for art and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) are outfitted with sinks and cabinets, ceiling-mounted power cables, and extra storage for class projects. The art room will have a signature feature in its southwest corner: a kiln. 

Across the hall, a SPED (Special Education) room has an overhead mount for a sensory swing – "best practice for a calming mechanism," Scholl said. The space, like the gym, has a divider to become two spaces to fit students' needs.

Classrooms are set up in pods, with four classrooms set around a common area. There is an interactive TV in each pod. Kindergarten through second grade will be housed on the first floor and grades 3-5 will be on the second floor. 

The way the education space is configured is designed to promote differentiated instruction - tailoring content and processes to meet the needs of individual students who are not all learning at the same pace and in the same style.

"The flexibility of the space and how we can use it to serve kids is what has the staff pretty excited," Scholl said.

All but two classrooms will be in use at opening, according to Scholl. One fifth grade class will not be used because the incoming fifth grade is small, and the preschool room won't be used because there are too many kids being served under a Promise Grant to fit the space. Those kids will stay in the old elementary school facility, Scholl said.

The unused preschool space could be used as an early childhood development classroom for high school students working with younger kids.

"Right now, we're not sure," Scholl said.

The current site of Sisters Elementary School at the corner of Highway 20 and Locust Street will be repurposed to serve Sisters Park and Recreation District.


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