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Groundbreaking launches Auburn High School construction project

School district officials join the principal contractor and architect to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Auburn High School reconstruction and modernization project. From left, Auburn School District Superintendent Kip Herren; Auburn High School Principal Richard Zimmerman; Auburn School Board members Carol Seng, Anne Baunach, Janice Nelson, Lisa Connors and Ray Vefik; Vefik
School district officials join the principal contractor and architect to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Auburn High School reconstruction and modernization project. From left, Auburn School District Superintendent Kip Herren; Auburn High School Principal Richard Zimmerman; Auburn School Board members Carol Seng, Anne Baunach, Janice Nelson, Lisa Connors and Ray Vefik; Vefik's grandson, Tony Aumoeualogo; architect Guy Overman of NACI Architecture; and Gus Gottschalk, Western Regional President of Lydig Construction.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

In his remarks at Sunday's groundbreaking for the Auburn High School reconstruction and modernization project, AHS principal Richard Zimmerman immediately called attention to what nobody there could possibly ignore.

That is, to one bona fide, bone chiller of a Pacific Northwest afternoon.

"For those of you who want to get kind of a feel for what Auburn High School currently is like, this is it," Zimmerman said.

Students, teachers, administrators and everybody else laughed, happily aware that when the three-story, red brick, Auburn High School opens in September 2014 at its new site facing East Main Street, nobody will have to shiver any longer in a drafty, 63-year-old building at the mercy of an unreliable, geezer boiler.

Zimmerman then went on to define just what "new and improved" will mean to the people who'll spend their days in the new building.

"It means a heated-, -non leaking -structurally-secure-and-minimal entrance house of Troy, and that's what we're really looking forward to," Zimmerman said.

More than 100 people showed up, among them members of school boards past and present, Auburn High School Student Body President Adam Luk and assorted dignitaries, including members of the Auburn City Council and 47th Legislative District Rep. Mark Hargrove, whose daughter will teach math at the new high school.

Also present were Gus Gottschalk, Western Regional President of Lydig Construction, and Guy Overman, the project's principal architect.

Actual work got under way less than 24 hours after officials, golden shovels in hand, tossed the ceremonial dirt.

District officials pitched awnings for the ceremony on the ground where the high school's predecessor was built in 1927. When a 1949 earthquake brought down Auburn's junior high — where West Auburn High School is today — the district moved the junior high students to the high school and double shifted.

The community responded by passing the first $1 million high school construction bond in state history. When today's Auburn High School opened in 1950, the old Auburn school became an annex, or, as it would become known to generations of students, The Annex. It was demolished in 1980.

Let the work begin

Over the next year and a half, today's students and teachers and administrators will have to deal with the challenges construction always brings, including intermittent service disruptions, noises, ground shaking and building debris.

Auburn School District Superintendent Kip Herren didn't seem a bit worried about any of that.

Herren said that Auburn will soon be able to boast of four modern high schools, all high quality, up-to-date facilities, where the will of the people, he stressed, not the ZIP code, determines just how good those schools are.

"All of you have had a stake in this great opportunity that is afforded our children, our teachers, our community for years to come," Herren said. "I am very proud to be part of an Auburn community that has made our children a priority for generations, ensuring that they have the best possible education for the future."

"Before we know it, the doors will open and the real benefits will commence," said School Board President Janice Nelson. "Students will have access to classroom technologies, modern science labs, a new commons area for student activities such as after-school clubs and multicultural fairs, and increased safety, thanks to a building that will be under one roof with only two points of entry."

Not much nostalgia for the current high school could be found.

Certainly none from Jana Zipf-Rosa and Jim Rosa. Their daughter, Caitlan, now 23, recalled having to sit in AHS hallways to eat lunch because of overcrowding.

Jim Rosa is president of Public School Employees of Washington in Auburn.

"She would tell me stories about sitting in cold, cold, cold classrooms with water dripping down," Jana said of her daughter.

Senior Rylee Lewis recalled many cold days inside, including one of her most memorable afternoons at the school: the day the boiler gasped, wheezed, sputtered and finally went out, belching out a plume of black smoke.

"Whatever's outside, it's going to be like that inside," Lewis said of the heating system.

Senior Windy Rattanasone fessed to, well, a bit of nostalgia.

"I am a little sad, as much as it needs to be rebuilt," Rattanasone said.

District voters cast 18,678 yes votes last November to approve the $110 million construction bond.

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