Howard Street prepares for move to new downtown school

The new Howard Street Charter School location in downtown Salem was once a grocery store, then a state building (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Salem’s oldest charter school gets a new home soon.

Students at Howard Street Charter School will start January classes in a renovated building on Marion Street that was once a grocery store, leaving the annex on the South Salem High School campus that the school has called home since 1997.

“Everybody has their own classroom for the first time,” said principal Christina Tracy, who also teaches seventh-grade humanities.

The new school, at 625 Marion Street Northeast, was once the headquarters of the Oregon Department of Energy.

The school also will get two music rooms: one for band, drama and choir, and another for orchestra. Teachers will have a staff room, and students can eat lunch in a commons area just inside the front door, rather than in their classrooms.

There’s also a science lab, separate from science classrooms, which will let students of all grades do hands-on lab work. Previously, only seventh and eighth graders had lab classes.

Workers with Rich Duncan construction are still putting finishing touches on the building, installing lockers and doing landscaping work.

“It’s amazing that it went so quickly,” Tracy said.

Howard Street Charter School Principal Christina Tracy looks over the school’s new commons on Dec. 6, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The move comes ahead of a renovation to expand the South Salem campus, scheduled for next spring.

Salem-Keizer School District Superintendent Christy Perry told Howard Street officials in June 2017 that the middle school would need to find a new home.

Tracy and the school’s board of governors found the Marion Street property and worked out a plan to buy and renovate the building.

The Salem-Keizer School Board in December rejected a request to give Howard Street more state money to help with the project. Howard Street obtained a $5.2 million state bond to cover the cost.

Now, the school will pay about $300,000 a year for the next 35 years on the debt.

To make the payments, Howard Street leaders have put a few cost-saving measures in place.

They cut one teacher position from full-time to part-time, eliminating some elective classes.

The school upped its enrollment to 64 students in each grade, which will increase the student body to 192 over the next two years. Charter schools receive state funding based on the number of students enrolled. Students interested in attending the school fill out a form and are selected by lottery.

Workers raise a phoenix sign on the side of the new Howard Street Charter School location in downtown Salem on Dec. 6, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Howard Street leaders also began hiring more staff as school, rather than district employees. The change means Howard Street isn’t bound by the district’s pay structure for non-district workers.

Tracy said that change has allowed the school to save on health insurance by giving employees money to buy their own plans, Tracy said.

Construction workers raised a sign with a larger-than-life phoenix, the school’s mascot, on the side of the building last week.

School employees have been packing and are scheduled to move their classrooms over winter break, which begins Dec. 21.

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.