Editor’s note: Our Town has been providing a school-by-school review of the facility challenges at each building covered by the Silver Falls School District bond proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot. Missed one? Stories are available at ourtownlive.com.
By Stephen Floyd
Butte Creek and Scotts Mills schools are in a unique place in the Silver Falls School District’s plan for upgrades through the proposed facilities bond on the ballot Nov. 7.
The buildings themselves are not necessarily failing, as some of the most pressing infrastructure needs were already addressed in 2016 through a state-funded seismic retrofit.
Instead the buildings are failing to meet student needs related to safety and quality of education due primarily to limited space and outdated design that leaves students exposed.
The district says proposed upgrades would not only help students feel more comfortable in their learning space, but would improve their physical safety and emotional wellbeing.
Over the last several months the SFSD Bond Advisory Committee and district officials – following a series of school-by-school community listening sessions – constructed a plan to address critical facility challenges.
After reviewing the proposal, the SFSD board decided to put the $138 million bond measure necessary to carry out those plans before the voters on the Nov. 7 ballot. If passed, a state grant of $4 million will also be awarded.
The bond addresses repairs and renovations at ten district-owned schools, and replaces Silverton Middle School.
For property owners within the district, the estimated cost per thousand tax increase over the current rate is $1.60 per $1,000 in assessed value.
The plan calls for $6.35 million for Butte Creek and $6.4 million for Scotts Mills to address facility issues.
When Butte Creek was constructed in 1949, it was among the largest schools in Marion County as it had just consolidated from three prior districts. The new building featured four classrooms, as well as a gym, auditorium and fully-equipped cafeteria. A new gym and middle school wing were added in 1979.
Butte Creek currently has the largest population among K-8 schools in SFSD at 283 students. Principal Kevin Palmer said these numbers strain the available classroom space. Every room that is not used fulltime is used multi-purpose, he added.
Though the building does have needs for new utilities and security improvements common to a 74-year-old school, Palmer said space is the most pressing priority.
“We utilize every inch of this building every minute of the day,” he said.
Space became a critical challenge during the previous decade, starting with the closure of Monitor School in 2010. Students from Monitor were reassigned to Butte Creek and Scotts Mills. At the time the SFSD Board discussed possibly adding modular buildings at Butte Creek for student overflow, but the plan was abandoned amid concerns overprohibitive costs.
Palmer said, if the bond passes, two modules will be added to the school from four modules currently being used at Silverton Middle School. The bond includes funds for a new middle school.
The crush of students at Butte Creek was partially alleviated in after the Monitor property was purchased by members of the Apostilic Church and reopened as a private school.
Then Butte Creek became home to a district-wide intensive special needs program for kids in third to eighth grades.
The third-fifth grade class is held in a former computer lab that is windowless and stuffy. Teacher Rebecca Pratt said this is a challenge both in meeting students’ regulat needs or during a breakdown or sensory crisis.
“If we had more space in here, we would be able to do more with the kids,” she said.
If Butte Creek inherits the modules from the middle school, Pratt’s class could meet in one of those spaces and the current class could become a sensory room. Palmer and Pratt said this would be ideal for helping neurodivergent students who need to recenter their focus before engaging in instruction.
When Scotts Mills Principal Kirstin Jorgenson talks about the needs of her school building, two priorities keep coming up: the risks posed by open-air walkways and the need for more restrooms.
The school, built in 1968, includes breezeways between classes instead of enclosed hallways. This may have been modern at the time, but Jorgenson said it’s now a safety risk.
She said an intruder who scales the relatively-low fence around campus would have unobstructed access to classroom doors, or to students walking the open halls. She said fully enclosing the hallways is necessary to reduce potential access.
“The safety of enclosing hallways is important,” she said.
The building also has just one set of bathrooms, serving 160-plus students and 15 teachers and staff. The bond would allow the addition of bathrooms in the middle school wing.
Jorgenson said it is not uncommon for eighth graders to express unease about using the restroom next to kindergarteners who are still learning bathroom etiquette. And currently if there is a need to close the restrooms due to a mess or an emergency, they may become inaccessible for the entire campus until the problem is resolved.
On top of daily inconveniences, the same bathrooms serve residents who attend events after school, further taxing the limited facilities.
Community events would also benefit from additional parking on campus, which is currently limited to a small gravel lot outside the entrance. Jorgenson said additional parking would help with student drop-off and pick-up so parents would have clearly-marked, safe places to park. It would also help for community gatherings.
Another significant need is for a covered play area to free up the gym on rainy days.
Jorgenson said PE classes can’t be held the same time as recess because of the possibility the gym will be needed for indoor play. When used for recess, she said the crowded gym space doesn’t really allow kids to get their energy out.
When asked about the connection between a school facility and student success, Jorgenson said it feels good to have pride in your school and kids deserve a chance to experience that pride.
“They deserve to be able to play outside all the time, and they deserve to have bathrooms,” she said. “… our kids deserve it, our community deserves it.”