School building opens: ‘It’s the best day of the universe’

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Monday at Helman School. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
February 15, 2022

Helman Elementary swings open doors to K-3 classrooms with scenic views

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

After a much anticipated wait, Helman Elementary School students and staff are getting classrooms with a view this week.

Two years of design and construction and a weekend spent moving into new classrooms culminated in the opening of a new, 23,800-square-foot building for kindergarten through third-grade students and staff on Monday morning. Students met in the courtyard of the elementary school with teachers and staff to celebrate the new space, which also includes a new playground. 

The new addition, with classrooms for kindergarten through third graders, was designed by BBT Architects of Bend to have the best views of Mt. Ashland, according to Christine McCollom, program and instruction director for Ashland School District, who attended the celebration.

“This is the first assembly they’ve had since 2020, “ McCollom said, noting the COVID-19 regulations in place. “And it’s Valentine’s Day and a new school and a playground. It is the best day of the universe.”

The project design began in August 2019, according to Helman Principal Michelle Cuddeback, with construction led by Rogue-Valley-based Adroit Construction starting just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020. The new building addition, which is the first of a two-phase project to renovate the school, was funded through a bond approved by the Ashland community in 2018.

Eva Skuratowicz, chair of the Ashland School Board, celebrated the completion of one of the bond project phases at the event. Following the celebration, she lauded the efforts of those in the community who supported the bond.

“A large percentage don’t have kids in the district,” Skuratowicz told Ashland.news. “We have people here who value education and they understand that even though … their kids may have already gone through the school district, that it’s incredibly important to support education.” 

The district supplemented the original $107 million amount by obtaining an approximately $31 million on top of the original bond funding for major renovations to Helman and Walker elementary schools, John Muir Outdoor School, Ashland Middle School, and Ashland High School. 

“Ashland has always been really supportive of schools, we’ve never had a bond not pass, so we’re super grateful for that,” McCollom said.

The second phase of the project will involve tearing down two other former classroom buildings at the northeast corner of the campus. The second phase of the project will create a new secured entry to campus and a plaza.

“They’ve been without their playground all that time and the whole place was a construction zone,” McCollom said, noting Monday morning the students had yet to play on the new playground. 

Cuddeback, who is in her sixth year as principal, said during the past year, students have used their creativity and imagination during recess and played a number of team-led games in a nearby field during construction.

Even with more work to be done, one could feel the excitement among the students, as they waited patiently to enter their new building.

“We are the Helman Dragons, ” students sang, led by a staff member on guitar. “Dragons stand for safety and the right to learn, each one acts responsibly and each one gets a turn.”`

Students then raved as Cuddeback cut through a yellow ribbon, marking the first day of school in the new space.    

“Here we are, two and a half years later, ready to go into the space,” Cuddeback said. 

Crews are starting the process to begin renovations to the other side of the campus this week, which includes renovations to longtime office manager Malinda Wood’s office area and spaces for fellow staff.

Wood, who has been on staff at Helman Elementary since 1997, is excited to see the changes. She remembers years of having very few and small windows on campus, on property that overlooks views of Grizzly Peak and Mount Ashland.

“It made me cry,” Wood said.

“It’s beautiful,” she added. “That building is absolutely nothing… that we’ve ever had.

“There’s no classroom out there that has a terrible view.”

To keep tabs on construction updates, go online to https://secureservercdn.net/45.40.150.47/t2c.fd7.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/ASD-Quarterly-Summary-JAN-2022.pdf.

Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Feb. 15 update: In the paragraph starting “The district supplemented,” the phrase “bond premiums” was replaced with “additional non-taxpayer funding” to avoid giving the impression there was a surcharge on the bond rate.

Feb. 19 update: The phrase “additional non-taxpayer funding” was removed pending clarification from the district on the source of the funds. Story also corrected to say that BBT Architects, not HMK Company, designed the new building.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.


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