North High School senior and student body president Kiara Ballard speaks at the school's groundbreaking ceremony with vice president Ben Garcia, right. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Senior Kiara Ballard won’t be around to see North Salem High School’s renovations over the next 18 months.

But the student body president said she’s excited on behalf of those returning to school in the fall of 2020 with an expanded building.

“Seniors and juniors are a little upset about some of the things we’re having to go through,” she said at a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday. But, she added, “We know that it’s going to be beautiful … I feel like we don’t always get the recognition we deserve and we do a lot of really cool things so this is huge for North.”

Thursday’s groundbreaking was the official start of nearly $620 million in school renovations and construction planned over the next five years at Salem-Keizer schools. The improvements are funded by property taxes for a bond that Salem-Keizer voters approved nearly a year ago.

Students, school board members, district staff, construction workers and those who campaigned on behalf of the bond spoke at the ceremony before donning hard hats and gold shovels to turn over a patch of dirt at the northeast corner of campus.

Salem-Keizer School District staff, North High School students, construction workers and school board members turn over dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony at North High School (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

North will add 20 classrooms to its main building, a new science lab, additional space for career and technical education programs and new main and auxiliary gyms. The school will get rid of its 10 portable classrooms.

The project, including design and preparation, will cost about $70 million, including $54 million in construction. It’s the single largest project in the district, and will add space for the school to accommodate 2,200 students.

It now has about 1,800 in a smaller space, but that number is projected to grow, in part because of recent changes to school attendance boundaries.

That space is much needed on campus, senior and student body vice president Ben Garcia said. The school’s gym is often too crowded for sports teams to practice without taking shifts, and students struggle to move in the hallways during passing periods.

“It takes five minutes to get to your class so you don’t have time to do anything,” he said.

Four other schools are scheduled to undergo remodeling this year, including Gubser Elementary School, McNary High School, Judson Middle School and Waldo Middle School. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday at Gubser.

Portable classrooms sit on the softball field at North High School as construction begins. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Work on the North campus has already begun. Portable classrooms have been relocated to the softball field, and the student parking lot will be partially inaccessible for the rest of the school year as expansions begin, principal Sara LeRoy said.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Viking for many reasons,” LeRoy said.

LeRoy said the changes will make her building less crowded while keeping its historic brick exterior. The school was built in 1906 and is the district’s oldest high school.

The next 18 months will be a bit chaotic on campus.

“If you need me to come be a cheerleader at some point next year and remind you it’s going to be great, I’ll do that for you,” Superintendent Christy Perry said at the groundbreaking.

Lee Zumwalt, project manager for LCG Pence Construction, said he’s eager to see more “qualified construction professionals” graduating from the school after career education space is expanded.

His team will put in 415,000 hours of work at the school and use 1.7 million pounds of steel for the renovations, he said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.

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