Last week, the Vashon Island School District broke ground on the largest-ever capital project on the Island — the new Vashon High School building — and no one, it seemed, was left out at the celebratory event.
Taking center stage at Friday’s gathering, the VHS class of 2024, currently kindergartners, took their task seriously as they earnestly dug at the hard-packed sod where the new building will sit. Surrounding the children, full-sized shovels were hoisted not only by students, teachers, administrators and school board members, but also by parents, business owners, volunteers and community leaders.
All told, hundreds of Islanders — including a veritable who’s who of Vashon — turned out for the event, held under sunny skies and followed by a picnic lunch.
Moments before shovels hit the ground, Tom Langland, who co-owns the Vashon Pharmacy, said it was not the school district that should be commended. Langland, a VHS graduate and the keynote speaker at Friday’s event, said the district owes it to Vashon residents, who last year voted to approve the bond and make the long-sought project a reality.
What’s more, Langland noted, the $47.7 million building is a huge investment, theoretically equating to $4,300 per resident, or $200 from each Islander for 20 years.
“That includes all the babies,” he said with a smile.
The new high school, set to be completed in late 2013, will transform what is now a sprawling campus comprised of five buildings into a single, two-story structure. The new building’s two large wings will be connected by a two-story, light-filled dining commons and an equally dramatic study commons that will double as a space for community meetings and team teaching. The building will also have a large courtyard, a clear main entrance — something it currently lacks — and a new theater.
“I tell everyone it’s going to be wonderful,” said VHS principal Susan Hanson after thrusting her own golden shovel into the sod.
Hanson also addressed high schoolers at the groundbreaking, bluntly telling students they would have to put up with a year and a half of construction fences, detours, noise and portables. The class of 2013, she noted, would deal with the construction but never go to class in the new building.
However, Hanson said, it will all be worth it when the school moves into the “dream building that supports our educational mission and helps us be better students and better educators.”
Langland, in his address, asked the audience why the community, which has recently supported the district to the tune of $500,000 a year, would also dish out the money to build a brand new high school.
Not only does the community know that the Island’s viability relies on a strong school system, Langland said, but those who attend the new high school will one day be major players on Vashon and in the wider world.
“You’re it. You are our only hope,” Langland said. “My generation is willing to invest heavily in this generation because we have faith in you.”