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New high school is unveiled

NewSchoolTour4 from Richard Montague on Vimeo.

By NATALIE MARTIN

More than 1,000 islanders flooded through the new Vashon High School last weekend, getting a first look at the spacious and modern building that students began classes in on Monday.

The halls, common areas and classrooms of the new school buzzed with energy at a community open house Sunday afternoon, when the 80,000-square-foot building was opened to the public for the first time. Students led tours of the new school and staff members were on hand to answer questions.

“It’s over-the-top fabulous, unbelievable,” commented one woman as she took a tour with her family. “I’m blown away,” she said.

Many at the event echoed the same sentiments, commenting on the building’s impressive architecture, light-filled spaces and modern features. Large banks of windows, island wood accents, a state-of-the-art theater and high-tech features in classrooms drew the most praise.

“You can feel the energy here,” said Emily Burns, whose daughter attends the high school.

Maya Battisti brought her kids who will eventually attend the high school to the open house. She, too, said she was impressed with the new building, which she called a vast improvement over the old, 1970s structure, which many have said was cramped, dark and not configured well.

“This seems like an inspiring place to learn,” she said.

Derryn Williams, another mother who came to the event, said she was glad to see the high school has also revamped its recycling program and will use real plates, trays and utensils in the cafeteria rather than cardboard and plastic ones.

She was also impressed with the large, 260-seat theater and glad it would be available for community use.

“It’s awesome,” she said.

John VanBuren, who has two granddaughters at the high school, noted that the new school has been long in the works. After grappling with the idea for years, the district first proposed rebuilding Vashon High School in 2008, but a $75.5 million bond measure was rejected by voters. In 2011, voters approved a $47.7 million bond for a scaled-back remodel.

VanBuren said the final product, an entirely new building the district ultimately opted for over a remodel, is beautiful.

“It’s truly remarkable,” he said. “I think we got our money’s worth.”

Students who attended the event also expressed excitement to attend class in the new building, but not without some reservations.

Freshman Annie Muller said the layout of the new school, with two two-story classroom wings, meant she would be walking up and down stairs throughout the day, something she wasn’t used to, but quickly added she was glad to not have to walk outside between classes.

“It will be nice not to walk around in the cold,” she said.

Selah Bellscheidt, also a freshman, noted that the library seemed small and wondered whether student workspaces scattered throughout the new building would be adequate.

“I feel like it will be a lot nicer than the old school,” she added.

VHS principal Danny Rock said he has heard comments on the library’s size, but explained that the district designed the room to be small, following a national trend away from large spaces filled with thousands of volumes. At the new library, he said, there are fewer books, but there will be more more of a balance between print and digital materials, with specialists on hand to help students navigate them.

And while the library has traditionally been a place where students converged to study, use computers and work in groups, the new school has more computers in classrooms and pushes work areas into designated study spots throughout the school and “places like this great hall,” Rock said, standing in the large, light-filled common area that greets visitors at the front entrance of the school.

In February, an advisory group made up of staff, students, parents and librarians from both the school district and the Vashon Library will convene to help determine how to best use the new library, Rock said, and how the high school could greater collaborate with the Vashon Library, which is also nearing completion of a building renovation and expansion.

“The two spaces can support one another,” he said.

On Monday, high schoolers’ first day back after winter break, students started the day with a special assembly and ribbon cutting for the new building. Tours were again offered to help students get the lay of the land, and regular classes resumed mid-morning.

Rock said it was important that the district give islanders — not just high schoolers — the first look at the new building on Sunday as a way to recognize the community for its support of the bond measure that made the new school possible.

“I think that message was delivered and received,” he said.

Tours of the new Vashon High School building will be offered to the public at 11 a.m. Saturdays in January and February. A demolition carnival that was planned for Jan. 9 has been canceled due to safety concerns.

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