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Citizens tour patched up Nellie Muir Elementary

by: JEFF MCDONALD  - odd Farris, principal at Nellie Muir Elementary, discusses needed improvements that would be part of a planned $70 million Woodburn School District bond effort slated for Mays ballot. The tour brought community members into the school to look at areas of concern, including a crowded library and classroom space. Space could not be much tighter at Nellie Muir Elementary in Woodburn, which is one of several schools across the Woodburn School District that would benefit from a planned $70 million bond effort in May.

At Nellie Muir, proposed improvements include a new gymnasium, new heating and cooling units, a new roof and a resurfaced parking lot, said Todd Farris, principal at Nellie Muir.

“The biggest issue is the building was built for 280 kids, but is serving 500 kids,” Farris said. “We do not have the infrastructure to do right by our kids.”

Other proposed improvements include replacements for leaky, single pane windows, asbestos abatement, improved security measures, seismic upgrades, remodeling of the old library and restrooms for faculty and students.

The revenue neutral bond is critical for a district where about 80 percent of the student population meets federal requirements for a free or reduced lunch. by: JEFF MCDONALD -

Other critical needs include building upgrades throughout the district and new buildings on properties already owned by the district adjacent to Washington Elementary School and the Heritage Elementary and Valor Middle School campus.

A 40-person staff and community member task force has been formed to assess the district’s needs and report back to the Woodburn School District board of directors in February. That task force includes Patricia Hyatt, a community member who has organized tours of Nellie Muir the last few weeks.

“I want people who have a perception of what the school’s needs are to walk through the school and leave with a changed perception,” Hyatt said. “If we don’t educate these children to their potential, it means the world to the future of our country.”

Future tours could be organized at Nellie Muir and other district schools, Hyatt said.

Tour the cramped school, built in 1963, and the needs become obvious.

The school has the smallest gym in the district — it is inadequate for even 300 kids, Farris said — with basketball hoops nailed to the wall and a shared space with the cafeteria.

“As far as the community and the kids, spirits are good,” said Pete Paxton, PE and Health teacher. “But it’s just too small.”

The parking lot is barely adequate for the school’s 52-person staff. Neighboring St. Mary’s Episcopal Church allows overflow parking in its lot, Farris said.

The lack of gym and cafeteria space makes it difficult if not impossible to bring the whole community of students, their parents and school staff together, Farris said.

The most pressing need at the school is a new heating and air conditioning system that is completely obsolete, said Chuck Ransom, superintendent.

Replacing the HVAC units will require essentially replacing the roof because they are attached, Ransom said.

“If one of them failed, we would need to find alternatives to heat the building,” he said.

Despite the problems, students, teachers and the school’s sole administrator make the best of the situation, Farris said.

“That’s how we deal with it — we patch, patch, patch,” he said.

School staff members often have to fight weeds that grow underneath some of the warped, single-paned windows, he said.

A makeshift wall separates the school’s technology support room, which holds thousands of dollars in equipment, from a cramped classroom next door.

The school’s resource room, where the special education students receive extra help in listening, speech and language, has barely enough room for separate work groups.

“Ideally, we would have space for each student to receive individual attention,” Farris said.

Next year’s bond campaign could serve to rally the community, said Laura Isiordia, executive director of CAPACES Leadership Institute.

Isiordia took the tour as a private citizen and could see the need for improving the facilities at Nellie Muir.

The effort will need to be community-wide, she said.

“They don’t have enough space to meet their needs,” Isiordia said. “If we get the word out, people will be willing to respond.”

Still early in the process, the district will need to approve an agreed-upon list of projects that will be placed on the bond next May, Ransom said.

He appreciated the efforts of Hyatt and others to get out and see the school.

“I am excited that there is a lot of support and interest that the community wants to dig in fully,” Ransom said. “I am expecting a fully developed list of projects that the community can get behind.”



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