McKay would get more space for arts, science, career education under new design

McKay High School Principal Rob Schoepper presents a plan for the school’s expansion to Salem-Keizer’s Community Bond Oversight Committee on April 22, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

McKay High School would get new science labs, an additional tennis court, and more space for music, theater and career education programs under a proposed design for the school’s renovation, which is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2020.

Principal Rob Schoepper presented the design Monday night to the Salem-Keizer School District’s community bond oversight committee, a group of citizen volunteers making recommendations on the nearly $620 million in planned school construction planned over the next five years.

He said the design, which was developed by a task force of building teachers and staff, would provide more space for the programs that McKay is known for while eliminating aging portable classrooms.

“I did my student teaching at McKay and I remember accessing those portables 20 years ago,” Schoepper said.

DOCUMENT: View the full design for McKay here.

The high school, serving northeast Salem, is the largest and most overcrowded in the district.

It became a flashpoint during discussions earlier this year about equity in the district as school attendance boundaries were shifted.

McKay educators, parents and students told school board members more needed to be done to bring resources into the school, which has one of the most racially diverse student bodies in the district. Many spoke about the impact of overcrowding on their campus, which has more than 2,400 students in a building designed for 1,800.

The revised design would cost about $60 million, $6 million more than an earlier design drawn by architects.

Mike Wolfe, the district’s chief operations officer, said that’s a best estimate based on the conceptual design, but the full cost still needs to be worked out. The district has some flexibility in the scope of projects that was budgeted into the district-wide construction package, he said.

A conceptual design for McKay High School includes a career-technical education annex, black box theater and new science lab wing. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Schoepper said in conversations with staff, it became clear McKay needed more space for arts and career-technical education programs.

The school’s orchestra placed third in Oregon last year, but shares a single stage with other music and theater programs on campus, meaning students don’t get a chance to rehearse on stage until competitions.

“We have an exceptional orchestra teacher in Jim Charnholm,” Schoepper said. “The guy teaches out of a closet.”

Under the remodel plan, the existing orchestra room would become practice space for students. Orchestra would move to the current choir room and a new choir room would be added.

A new wing off the northeast size of the school would include 11 science lab classrooms, allowing current science classrooms to be used for other classes, and a “media center” that would serve as an expanded library.

“When you drive up to McKay, that’s what you’ll see,” said assistant principal and athletic director Jerimy Kelley of the new wing.

A new annex at the back of the school would host expanded culinary, engineering and agriculture programs.

The school would add a second gym and new weight room, allowing for more P.E. class options, Kelley said. A fourth tennis court would allow the school to host matches.

McKay sophomore Leanette Mabinton, who is a student representative on the committee, said she was happy with the design and felt it addressed concerns that not enough class space would be added.

“I see a lot of questions people had and concerns, you guys fixed it,” she said.

School board director Marty Heyen, who represents the McKay area, read a letter from a teacher at the school imploring the district to consider expanding space for the school’s visual arts programs, which include mixed media and printmaking.

Heyen said she’s visited the art classrooms and found students have to work on projects in teacher offices and don’t have space to put their projects to dry.

“Art is just as important as sports – it keeps kids in school,” she said. “If there’s money left over, we’ve got to do something.”

 The design will now be refined into a more detailed plan with a precise cost estimate, Wolfe said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.