May 26—LA GRANDE — Construction of the La Grande School District's new academic and athletic center may begin in about a year.
Voters approved a $4.845 million bond for the project in the Tuesday, May 17, primary election.
"It could start as early as May of 2023," said Joseph Waite, the La Grande School District's facilities director.
Once construction begins the building could be completed in about six months. This means, Waite said, that the multi-use center could be ready to be occupied by December of 2023. The building will replace the school district's Annex gym next to La Grande Middle School, which was built in the late 1930s and is in poor condition.
The new structure — which may have two gyms, locker rooms and multiple classrooms — will be a pre-engineered building, one for which parts will be manufactured before construction starts. Waite said constructing a pre-engineered building will take less time. One reason is that it is designed to have the frame and roof put up first. This will allow construction crews to do interior work much earlier because the structure's interior will be protected from inclement weather.
The total amount of funding the school district has for the building project is $8.845 million. The additional $4 million is from a state matching grant the school district will receive.
The Annex gym building the academic and athletic center will replace will likely be torn down before construction begins rather than after it is completed. Waite said this will have to be done to create space for the construction of the new building, which will be approximately where the Annex gym is now.
Without removal of the Annex gym first, Waite said, it would not be possible to construct the academic and athletic center because there would not be enough space needed for construction equipment and for school district parking.
School district plans also call for the demolition of the maintenance and grounds building that is attached to the Annex by a walkway. The building, which was constructed in 1912, is run-down and does not meet the needs of the district.
"It will be torn down at the same time as the Annex gym," Waite said.
The school district's maintenance services will be housed at the Adams Professional Plaza on the 1800 block of Adams Avenue, which the La Grande School District began leasing earlier in anticipation of passage of the $4.845 million bond.
The first step in the construction process is in the hands of the La Grande School Board. It must determine what type of contract the school district will have with the building firms that will be involved in the construction project. Waite anticipates that the board will make its decision in the next two months.
This will be the second time in eight years that the La Grande School District will be constructing a new building with bond funds. In 2014, voters passed a $31.85 million bond for major projects in the district including the replacement of Central Elementary School.
Merle Comfort, a longtime member of the La Grande School Board, said the experience the district gained then in working with construction programs will be a plus. He has confidence in those overseeing the Annex replacement project.
"We have the right people in the right places to get the job done," Comfort said.
Joe Justice, also a member of the La Grande School Board, agrees. He said Waite, who was brought in during the middle of the $31.85 million bond construction work, adds a valuable degree of internal expertise. Justice also noted that La Grande Superintendent George Mendoza has experience with construction projects in other school districts before coming to La Grande in 2017.
Waite, armed with a wealth of building experience he only quietly makes reference to, said he feels good as the process of organizing the construction project begins.
"We're excited. We appreciate the support of all of our voters and are looking forward to making the project come to life," Waite said.
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