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Trading (school) spaces

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In the fall of 2010, bells signaled the first day of class on the 38-acre South Medford High School campus at the corner of Cunningham and South Columbus avenues.

To some staff who were there, the nine years since then have passed quickly.

“In some ways, it feels like we’re still really just settling in,” said Principal Donnie Frazier, who was an assistant principal when the new campus opened.

The chapter that began with a 2006 bond measure that financed the nearly $80 million construction project, along with other projects, closed with the opening of the 255,000-square-foot building.

The thread first pulled by the Panthers’ leap into their new neighborhood ran throughout the fabric of the 2010s. Even as the South Medford High community continued adapting its new space to meet its needs, two other Medford schools spent the decade updating the places they call home — ripple effects of South’s move.

Approximately 200 to 250 students moved into 815 S. Oakdale Ave. after South left in the spring. They were enrolled in the Medford Opportunity School alternative program that, under the leadership of Principal Amy Herbst, later became Central Medford High School.

“It’s been a journey,” Herbst said, adding with a laugh: “I almost can’t even remember the last 10 years.”

The decade to come forecasts another move for the district’s alternative high school, as the Medford School District looks to turn the historic building on Oakdale into a third middle school. Central’s future location has not yet been decided.

That same year, Medford Opportunity’s former home opened once again as a school: Logos Public Charter School, which was new in 2010. Logos stayed on the campus at 400 Earhart St. for almost nine years. Its leadership sought a different space with room to grow starting in 2017.

After fundraising, searching for land and more construction, Logos settled into a new building at 1203 N. Ross Lane in Medford.

“It’s been an exciting decade for our school,” said Sheryl Zimmerer, executive director. “I’m excited to see what 2020 brings.”

Keeping the new new

Frazier can remember how it felt to walk through the doors at the new South campus.

“It’s just bright, fresh,” he said. In addition to the newness, the views of the surrounding mountains from the windows delighted the occupants.

The old South Medford High building, built in 1931, had seen some updates to its HVAC and other necessary systems, but deficiencies lingered.

“Never did we have a rainstorm where we didn’t have to empty a classroom and go up and find the leak somewhere,” Frazier said.

One of the elements that was considered a key educational upgrade back in 2010, Frazier said, was the fact that the new campus had about 10 computer labs full of desktop machines.

“It was so nice, because we finally had enough,” Frazier said. But, he said, “10 years is a long, long time in technology years.”

By now, only a handful of those rooms are as they once were. As the school district invested in mobile Chromebook carts that rendered the desktops obsolete, officials gave the OK to transform the spaces into more useful applications.

Today, one former computer lab is full of 3-D printers. Another lab became Doug Reed’s classroom; he’s the robotics and engineering teacher. While the desktop computers remain, they now are used to program robots that students construct and test out in a central arena, which the desks are arranged to accommodate.

In the C building, farthest south, one former computer lab is undergoing a major transformation. In place of the computers are hospital-room curtains, examination tables, sinks and even a mock reception area at one entrance.

This is where students pursuing a health care track in the career and technical education “pathway” will learn practical skills that they’ll need to have in the workforce.

To Frazier, the former computer labs exemplify the community’s relationship to its campus.

“We have spent the last 10 years moving in,” he said.

Bookended by change

Back at 815 S. Oakdale Ave., things were relatively quiet during the start of the Medford Opportunity School’s occupancy. All 170,465 square feet of the main building were available to the small program.

Even though the building needed about $1.7 million in remodeling, Herbst said students benefited from moving into a campus originally designed as a school. It offered new amenities: a gym, a sizable auditorium and athletic fields, for example.

“That first year — 2010, 2011 — it wasn’t as busy as it is now,” Herbst said. “It was just us.”

More space in the building and parking lots filled when district administration moved into their renovated offices on the second floor. The Central Medford annex space was used for other district needs as well, such as housing the facilities department.

Throughout the decade, the school was renovated to provide office spaces for community partners such as College Dreams and the Maslow Project, which work with many of Central’s students.

The building wasn’t the only thing changing; the structure of the alternative program was, too. As the district leadership moved in, Herbst began her first year as principal of Central Medford High School, working to secure accreditation to issue diplomas to graduating seniors.

The district’s third high school still houses alternative programs under Herbst’s supervision. This year, the school rolled out a new skills-based curriculum that focuses on boosting promptness and participation, among other tenets.

Herbst said the curriculum has helped spark a boost in the school’s attendance rate this year: school-wide, it was up 12% by the time students headed into the holiday break.

“We just really want our kids in this community to have access to a high school diploma,” she said. “I tell kids all the time, if you come to school, 100%, we’ll get you there. You’ve got to want it, and we’ll support you.”

Preserving what makes Central Medford High School unique, from its small class sizes to its tight-knit community, is a key priority for Herbst and others as the district searches for space to relocate the school next year.

“One stability that we have is really good people that are dedicated to doing this work with our student population,” Herbst said. “And I trust that we will be provided for by the district. They have been all along very generous to meet the needs when we show that we have them.”

Increasing pressure in the school district’s existing two middle schools and projected population growth have driven district leadership to pursue creation of a third middle school by 2021.

Hoping to avoid going out for a bond measure, leaders are looking to locate the new school at 815 S. Oakdale Ave., which involves another renovation. Central students will be moved either to new purchased or leased space.

Herbst is optimistic about the change.

“We’ll bring the heart and soul wherever we land,” she said. “It will be emotional to leave, but I also am really excited about a new start.”

Dreaming big, building bigger

Logos Public Charter School moved into Medford Opportunity School’s former space.

Zimmerer said the space at 400 Earhart St. had to be updated to meet the school’s needs, including dealing with damage done to the back of the building when someone broke in.

“There was a lot of cleaning up to do,” she said.

The campus had little capacity to accommodate Logos’ significant growth over the decade, Zimmerer said.

The school’s first three-year charter set a cap of 300 students. Before that charter was up for renewal, she said, the cap was expanded. In 2013 (corrected), the Medford School Board approved a 1,000-student cap.

During that time, the school had no meeting space large enough to hold all 70 staff members for a school-wide meeting, Zimmerer said. Students enrolled in the Logos Scholars program had to walk across busy South Riverside Avenue to get to resources in the other building Logos occupied.

So the school’s leaders began to plan for a new space.

A possibility emerged when the Wes Howard Memorial Foundation offered the school a $1 per year lease (changed later to a complete donation) on 4.7 acres of land off Ross Lane.

Through fundraising and the help of a $3.9 million loan from Peoples Bank, the $6.2-million construction project ended with a ribbon-cutting Aug. 27, 2019.

The space includes 12 classrooms (seven more than the old building), an open central space with a high ceiling, an outdoor play area, a garden, and an assembly room big enough to hold 150 people.

Just as South Medford High School prepares to celebrate its 10th graduating class from its new campus, Zimmerer hopes to send off Logos graduates at the end of the school’s 10th academic year in a special way.

The school never hosted its graduation ceremony at its own building, because it lacked the space to do so. Zimmerer is looking to build an outdoor pavilion so students can receive their diplomas on the new site.

“Fingers crossed,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

This article was updated to correct the date when Logos Public Charter School's cap was expanded to 1,000 students.

Above: The South Medford Panthers head down their home court for a basket in Tuesday's big matchup against rival North Medford. After the new South Medford High School is built, the old gymnasiums will continue to be used for school athletic competitions and will be rented out for community events. Top right: An artist?s rendition shows the new high school design.
The steel skeleton of South Medford High School?s administration and classroom wing takes shape Friday on the new campus, set to open in fall 2010.