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Third Medford middle school underway

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ron Havniear, Director of Facilities and Leadership Development, checks out seismic upgrades at the site of the new middle school off of Oakdale in Medford on Thursday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ron Havniear, Director of Facilities and Leadership Construction is in progress at the site of the new middle school off of Oakdale in Medford on Thursday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ron Havniear, Director of Facilities and Leadership Construction is in progress at the site of the new middle school off of Oakdale in Medford on Thursday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ron Havniear, Director of Facilities and Leadership Development, walks through construction at the site of the new middle school off of Oakdale in Medford on Thursday.

The building at 815 S. Oakdale Avenue stands dormant now, but come fall of 2023, it will open its doors as the Medford School District’s third middle school.

The transformation comes about after a citizen-led facilities optimization committee determined the district is experiencing space challenges.

“Before we ask taxpayers for a penny, we need to optimize the facilities we currently have,” said district Superintendent Bret Champion.

The issue driving the decision for a new middle school, in addition to Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools, is the need to relieve pressure on Medford’s elementary schools.

“Without doing this, we would need to go to the taxpayers and say, ‘We need to build a new elementary [school],’” Champion said.

Brad Earl, Medford School District assistant superintendent of operations, spoke more to the size challenges, saying the district has made an effort to reduce class sizes — possible only by hiring more teachers. But that also means using more classrooms, he added.

“All those efforts have caused us to pretty much use up all of our teaching space,” Earl said. “One of the ways to relieve that would be to go to a 6-8 [grade] middle school model. To get to the model, we realized we needed at least a third middle school.”

The new model will make elementary schools kindergarten through fifth grade; middle schools grades 6-8; and high schools grades 9-12.

Champion cited Abraham Lincoln Elementary as one school experiencing space issues. The school’s new principal, Ashley Nichols-Lee, said Lincoln is using “every square inch of our school.”

“We don’t really have enough space. I’ve seen groups happening in the hallways before,” Nichols-Lee said. “By opening another middle school, that will essentially open up three classrooms in our school in an area that’s growing pretty quickly.”

100-year-old building

The facilities optimization committee, which included Ron Havniear, Medford School District director of facilities, was able to find a way to meet educational needs by using buildings the district already owned, delaying a bond measure for several years.

“I think you’ll see an updated, 100-year-old building brought back to life with a fresh new look,” Havniear said. “It will be an exciting time.”

The building on South Oakdale has a storied history. It was first known as Medford High School starting in 1931, and went through several iterations as different schools. It housed Central Medford High School for the past 10 years, and the Medford School District used it for administrative offices for eight years.

Champion said it was important for the district to plan this third middle while preserving the historical integrity of the site.

“It looks like nothing's happening, but lots of things are actually happening behind the scenes,” he said.

Building in phases

The building’s redesign comes in three phases.

Phase one included a parking lot expansion, field relocation and play surface. That was all completed prior to the summer “groundbreaking” for the new middle school.

July saw the beginning of phase two, which includes seismic upgrades and work on the roof. This phase will extend into next summer, according to Havniear, because crews will need to look for good “weather windows” to work on certain aspects of the project.

But the extension of phase two won’t impede the beginning of phase three, he said. That includes demolition of the interior of the building. The third phase is likely to end in April of 2023, to give staff members time to rehearse during the summer to prepare for the new school year.

A new beginning

Champion is looking forward to the time when students can walk through the halls of the middle school and learn.

“2023 is going to offer more opportunities for our middle students to excel academically, athletically, in the fine arts,” he said.

The grand opening will also allow the district time to look at middle school programs at Hedrick and McLoughlin, Champion added.

“[We want to see] what does it look like to ensure … that we have those opportunities at our other middle schools as well,” he said.