Early McNary renovations aimed at improving Keizer traffic as students arrive at school

Workers re-roof the McNary High School gym on Aug. 23, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Even with the school under construction, traffic around McNary High School should be better this fall.

That’s Principal Erik Jespersen’s prediction after crews put in a temporary gravel parking lot for students on the south end of campus.

McNary is three months into a $53 million renovation to add classroom space, move the office to the school’s entrance and expand science and special education classrooms.


The expansion includes more parking to break what became a daily logjam as 2,000 students and 160 employees shared a single lot, and parents and buses used one lane of traffic to drop students off at the front entrance.

“That a lot of traffic in one footprint,” Jespersen said.

McNary High School Principal Erik Jespersen points to the future site of a new wing for the school (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The gravel lot will free up space for staff in the existing lot and reduce the number of cars going in and out, making drop-off much faster. Currently, the line is so long that many parents drop their kids at the corners of the campus, backing up traffic in Keizer, according to Mike Wolfe, district chief operating officer.

Over the summer, construction crews demolished a small wing on the back side of the high school to make room for new construction.

The additions are designed to relieve overcrowding at Keizer’s only high school, built in 1965 to hold 1,725 students. It now has about 2,050.

Construction would bring that capacity to 2,200 without portables.

Construction workers on the back side of McNary High School, where new classrooms are being built (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

With more space for special education, McNary will offer a life skills program, targeted for students with developmental disabilities who are social and emotional skills.

That’s key to a district plan to expand high school special education offerings so all students can get the programs best suited to their needs at neighborhood schools.

“We’re going to serve all our kids in Keizer,” Jespersen said.

Students will use a temporary weight room inside a portable in front of McNary High School during the 2019-20 school year (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The demolition has forced some classrooms to relocate temporarily into six portable classrooms.

A seventh will serve as a temporary weight room for athletic training.

Crews completed the interior work, chiefly seismic retrofitting to make the school earthquake safe. The school gym, built with concrete blocks, now has reinforced concrete walls.

The school office, currently near the center of the school, will be relocated to the front of the building for enhanced security.

The entrance of McNary High School is being expanded so the school’s office will be at the front of the building (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

McNary’s offices were relocated to the Career and Technical Education Center on Portland Road over the summer. On Friday morning, boxes of packed classrooms supplies and furniture were piled in the hallways, waiting to be moved back to their classrooms.

Crews planned to finish that work over the weekend so teachers can begin setting up for the new year, with classes starting Sept. 4.

“Their ability to put everything back together the right way is just amazing,” Jespersen said.

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

Construction workers lay walls for the McNary High School expansion in front of the building (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

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.