UMATILLA — The students at Clara Brownell Middle School can see more clearly since a $10.5 million 2016 school bond funded the construction of new double-pane tinted windows in classrooms, and much more for the school district.
Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe was pleased with the additions to the school.
“The windows are nice,” Sipe said. “Everything else is just what we needed.”
Sipe led a tour of the school Friday, presenting the newly refurbished facilities to the public after a brief luncheon.
The Oregon Energy Trust conducted studies during the remodeling process, which allowed the district to see the long-term projected costs of renovations.
The studies focused on incorporating energy reduction and environmental protection into the new facilities. The process earned the district almost $70,000 in rebates, which were presented at a check signing and dinner on Friday evening.
The rebates, Sipe said, will in part go toward fixing the air conditioning unit at Umatilla High School, which gave out just days before graduation.
McNary Heights Elementary, CBMS and UHS all received updated security systems, and updated HVAC systems with direct digital controls as part of the bond. MHES also received a new standalone gymnasium, complete with solar panels.
The majority of the changes, however, can be seen at Clara Brownell.
The basis for the reconstruction came from a privately contracted report from the Wenaha Group, a Pendleton-based project management and consulting firm that specializes in education, tribal, public agency and health care projects. The report concluded, ultimately, that while Umatilla High School and McNary Elementary schools were in “fair” or “good” condition, Clara Brownell Middle School was in “poor” condition and required major renovations or replacement.
The doors and windows, which were initially described by the report as “exceptionally inefficient and in poor condition,” have been replaced to provide better natural light and insulation.
The plumbing and heating systems called for a revamp.
After digging through 6 inches of concrete to reach the plumbing system at CBMS, the school has been reoutfitted. Students will now have regular handwashing sinks in the bathrooms, which are replacing foot pump troughs.
Ron West, who does maintenance at CBMS, proudly opened the door to a room which used to hold an old finicky boiler. Now, it’s just a storage closet. With a window, in case it ever becomes an office. West will no longer have to maintain the boiler at the school.
The chimney on CBMS, which served as a landmark in some ways, according to Sipe, was taken down due to seismic concerns.
Other upgrades funded by the bond include new sound-reducing rubber flooring in classrooms, and hallway floors painted to look like the confluence of the Umatilla River.
The bond was the first passed in the district since 1998 when Umatilla High School was constructed.
In 2006, a $6.5 million bond was proposed to help construct a new Clara Brownell school building. The bond was defeated 510-436, according to a 2006 article published in the Hermiston Herald.
Again in 2008, under the new leadership of Sipe, another bond was proposed which would help alleviate overcrowding at McNary Elementary School by building 14 new classrooms as well as four modular classrooms at Clara Brownell.
The potential to pass the bond seemed promising when 46% of voters claimed they would “fully or somewhat” support a school bond that May.
But, due to what Sipe believes were economic stressors caused by job layoffs, the bond failed. The district forged onward with the renovations, using $2.2 million in district funds.
“This time we knew not to ask for any more,” Sipe said.
As Sipe walked the tour out from the CBMS cafeteria Friday afternoon, she pointed out to a patch of ceiling they couldn’t afford to repair during renovations.
Twenty or so years from now, Sipe hopes that another bond could pass. This time, possibly to aid the construction of a K-2 building on a plot of land owned by the school district on South Hill.