Using a $1.1 million state grant, the Longview School District will begin turning the old R.A. Long woodshop into a “state of the art” robotics and medical science labs.

Construction is scheduled to start in early May and the labs will open next fall, according to Jill Diehl, director of career and college readiness.

The shop was converted into a storage space almost two years ago after the district decided to concentrate its trades classes at Mark Morris High School, Diehl said. The R.A. Long woodshop “really wasn’t safe and it needed a lot of work to be updated,” Diehl said.

Instead, the district renovated the Mark Morris shop, moved the R.A. Long equipment to that shop and opened the pre-apprenticeship program there that is open to all district high school students.

The district wanted to add a similar career preparation program for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, Diehl said. The Washington STEM grant the district received last December will help finance the project.

About $200,000 of the grant money will go toward technology, including laptops for “mobile classrooms” and a 3D, automated cadaver table. The funds also cover costs for construction and new furniture, such as desks.

Initial design plans propose removing the mezzanine in the old workshop; adding two classrooms, a wet lab and a “collaborative student workspace” for planning and pitching projects; remodeling the old “paint room” into a third classroom; and creating office space for at least two teachers. Most of the new walls will feature glass panes to “create visibility” and “replicate the real-world environment,” Diehl said.

A portion of the shop will be left open as a general workspace. (See TDN.com online for a drone video of the woodshop before construction begins.)

The additions play off of the “natural space” and structure of the woodshop as possible to save money on the project, Diehl said.

“We are trying to preserve the brick as much as we can … to preserve the historical aspect of this building,” she added.

With the new STEM lab, R.A. Long will expand its biomedical science program, which runs out of a “little, tiny science classroom.”

Additionally, the STEM lab will introduce new, high school level robotics curriculum, including drone piloting, Diehl said. It will build off of the middle school robotics programs already in place, she said.

“Robotics is one of the fastest growing skills right now … so this will make our kid more technologically capable for a career,” Diehl said.

Like the pre-apprenticeship classes, the courses will be available to all high school students in the district.

The board is likely to approve a construction contract at its Monday night meeting. Pacific Tech, Five Rivers Construction and JH Kelly submitted applications for the project, Diehl said.

Although the space is completely empty now, Diehl said she expects the projects to be finished by July.

“You just have to have vision … for how it will look.”

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