North Salem under construction as students head back to school

North Salem High School Principal Sara LeRoy walks through the school’s construction zone on Aug. 23, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

North Salem High School students and staff are in for changes as they start school in an active construction zone.

A $70 million campus renovation and expansion has been underway at the school since the spring, but work kicked into high gear with the school empty. Office workers moved to Parrish Middle School for the summer and only moved back to North on Friday.

“Right now I’m working out of the library until things get set up,” principal Sara LeRoy said.

Teachers will enter the school Monday.


Construction crews finished most of the interior renovation work over the summer. While school is in session, they’ll focus on building additions outside to minimize disruption to students and staff, according to Joe Bonanno, district project coordinator.

The interior work includes expanded second-floor science classrooms, where crews took walls out to add more natural light and workspaces for teachers to set up lab materials.

The school’s auditorium is halfway through seismic renovations, with two new walls that are designed to withstand a large earthquake. That work will finish next summer, Bonanno said.

The front entryway has been redone to add security. After school starts for the day, staff will lock the front doors and require visitors to either have a badge or be buzzed in to access the school.

Project coordinator Joe Bonanno shows North’s new security system at the school’s front entrance (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When someone enters the front door, they’ll walk into a vestibule with locked doors leading to either the office or the school’s interior. Office staff can then require visitors to come through the office and sign in before accessing the rest of the school.

Demolition work is also complete, making for a big change: North won’t have a gym on campus this school year.

As crews construct a new gym building, the Vikings’ athletic director moved some sports practices to other schools and nearby fields. The football field remains usable, and the Vikings were at work running plays Friday morning.

A single wall is all that remains of North’s gym following demolition over the summer. Construction crews are at work on a new gym building (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Until the new gym is finished, PE classes will be held at Olinger, a district-owned building just south of the campus on A Street which was an unused pool at the start of the year.

Now, it’s slated to become a permanent part of North, serving as a temporary weight room and gym during construction and a Viking field house for additional PE classes and sports after.

Another addition on the building’s west side will serve expanded health sciences and wood shop programs.

North Salem Principal Sara LeRoy walks out of Olinger, a district-owned building that will serve as a temporary gym for PE classes during the 2019-20 school year (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When finished, the addition will have a second-floor covered walkway connecting it to the main building. That addition was recommended by students to allow them to get to classes within the school’s five-minute passing period, LeRoy said.

The south side of the building will add 20 classrooms and a ramp, making Salem’s original high school accessible for students and visitors with physical disabilities. The new classrooms will also expand special education at North.

When construction is completed, the district’s goal is for every special education student in the district to be able to attend their neighborhood high school, chief operating officer Mike Wolfe said.

Currently, most high schools are missing one or more special education programs, so a student may need to be transported elsewhere.

Project coordinator Joe Bonanno shows a new career and technical education addition under construction on the south side of North Salem High School (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The campus parking lot is now home to forklifts and construction materials, so students have been parking at Salem First Church of the Nazarene, about half a mile away on Market Street.

That change began after spring break last year. LeRoy said for the most part, students have taken the extra walk in stride.

Some classes are temporarily housed five portable buildings the staff have christened “Mod City.” Those portables are new and will rotate around the district as other schools begin construction in coming years.

 “We’ve got one more year and then it’ll be beautiful,” LeRoy said.

New additions under construction on the west side of North Salem High School (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

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

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.