Chad Barkes, left, Sprague High School principal, and sophomore Paige Huynh turn over dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony for the school's expansion on Thursday, May 27, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

By 7:10 a.m., there’s usually a line of cars stretched outside the main entrance at Sprague High School as parents wait to drop their students off.

Principal Chad Barkes said the morning back-up is so bad that parents have to arrive almost a half hour before classes begin to guarantee their students will be on time.

“It’s such a pain in the butt. We have to change our policies in the morning for kids being late because it’s almost not their fault,” he said.

The delay results from the layout of the school’s parking lot, which has only one entrance and exit and no good place for parents to turn around after dropping off students.

That’s expected to change as Sprague undergoes renovations over the next 15 months. It’s the fifth high school in the Salem-Keizer School District to receive major improvements as part of a $620 million construction package voters approved in 2018.

Sprague’s improvements, budgeted at $42.8 million, include a new wing of classrooms and a larger drop-off area in front of the school. A roundabout will be added so parents can more easily leave the parking lot after dropping students off.

The project is expected to require 276,000 hours of labor and 4,800 tons of new concrete, said Lee Zumwalt, project executive with Pence Construction.

Getting rid of the school’s 11 portable classrooms was a major selling point for students.

At a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, sophomore Korben Stone urged an assembled group of elected officials and district administrators to think about using port-a-potties at the state fair.

“Were they comfortable, satisfying? They’re a means to an end. An unglamorous necessity to organize some events. They do their job but nothing more. They’re very utilitarian in that sense,” he said.

Stone said that’s the feeling he and his classmates have when attending classes in portables.

“They’re temporary classrooms,” he said. “The experience is not pleasant, it’s not comfortable, it’s not satisfying … They do their job of being a box to teach in and nothing more. They’re the barest minimum and it feels like it.”

Sophomore Paige Huynh remembered struggling to get to math class on time last year on a rainy day. She’d broken her ankle playing basketball and said the portables were especially difficult to navigate to.

“It was hardcore raining, like pouring down, and my crutches were slipping and wet,” she said.

Construction plans at Sprague High School call for a new classroom wing, administrative offices and changes to parking and traffic flow (Salem-Keizer School District)

Barkes said the improvements will make the school feel more cohesive because students will no longer have to walk outside to get to class or to the school gym.

A new administration wing on the west side of the school will make the school office more visible and accessible.

Sprague will also be able to expand career technical education programs.

They’ll be able to double the size of the school’s sports medicine program with new space, and expand marketing, computer-aided design and environmental science offerings.

The school was built in 1972 and doesn’t have modern science labs or other spaces adequate for programs that have been added since, Barkes said.

“These are spaces that we made work,” he said.

Two new science labs are part of the design. One will be used by the environmental science program.

The school’s special education programs will also get their own kitchen and bathroom. Barkes said those additions will improve offerings for students whose education is focused on acquiring life skills, allowing them to learn how to cook at school.

Construction will begin in earnest once school is out for the year in June and is scheduled to finish in the fall of 2022. West Salem High School will also undergo renovations over the same period.

Improvements at North Salem and McNary high schools finished in the fall of 2020, and projects expanding McKay and South Salem high schools are expected to finish this fall.

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

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