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Butler Acres Elementary School construction nearing completion after delays

Butler Acres project

Sheetrock is up and insulation is in progress on the new entrance and building addition to Butler Acres Elementary School in Kelso in this January file photo. 

Kelso school construction is on track with Butler Acres Elementary School wrapping up and the Huntington Middle School modernization taking shape.

Erik Peterson with Integrus Architecture said the auxiliary gym and entry vestibule are both underway at Huntington, with in-ground work happening for the gym.

“It may look like a pile of dirt right now, but there’s a lot there under the ground,” he said.

The first level of the building has been stripped back to the concrete shell and classroom dividing walls are gone in preparation for the modernization.

Huntington students are attending classes at Catlin Elementary School while their school undergoes the $30 million modernization to replace major mechanical, electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; change the location of the office and entryway; add a second gymnasium; and replace the track.

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Craig Collins with Collins Architectural Group said Butler Acres will be finished in December with seismic bracing, ramps, an updated gym with a new floor and wall panels, and new lighting.

Because pandemic-related construction delays put the school renovations behind schedule, the school was not ready for students in early September causing them to start classes later than their peers.

The projects are financed through the $98.6 million bond voters approved in 2018.

At Monday night’s meeting, the board also approved school improvement plans for all district schools. Goals were set for each school to improve test scores, college readiness and school climate, and close the COVID-19 learning gaps.

Director of Student Services Don Iverson said the district is opting in to the state’s test-to-stay program, which allows students to do a shorter, modified quarantine so, in some circumstances, they can stay in the classroom during quarantine.

The program is only for those identified as close contacts from school exposures. Students who want to test to stay need to be tested at least twice during the seven days of quarantine, must be asymptomatic, must keep wearing masks and must fully quarantine from all extracurricular activities, including group child care and youth development programs.

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The option will start next Monday Iverson said, and will “save kids the unnecessary staying at home days.”

So far, he said about 1,600 kids have been identified as close contacts, which equals about 11,500 days of absences from in-person school.

“This is a way to recapture kids and keep them in school,” he said.

Butler Acres Principal Mark Connolly said he’s been in education for more than 30 years and this is the “most stressful and overwhelming start I’ve ever known.”

“I was alone until I started talking to others about it,” he told the board. He said to keep spirits up at his school, the staff has a goal of laughing every day “and we do.” They also plan fun staff activities to relieve stress.

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“We’re intentional about that,” he said. “We support each other in the work that we’re doing and can tap each other out when we need a respite.”

Assistant Principal Sarah Dahl said they’ve also maintained an open door policy and made sure staff know they can take personal days if they need and the school is there to support and help the staff.

Monday night the board also heard about language updates on five new procedures on mastery based skills in English, math, science, social studies and world language. The added language is that students may recover credits for passing a general education development test or the successful completion of a next higher-level course.

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The program allows unvaccinated students identified as close contacts at school to continue to learn in-person while monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, including at least two tests over a seven-day period.

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