McNary High School principal Erik Jespersen lines up for a ceremonial dirt-shoveling to kick off construction at the school on May 17, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

New construction and diesel technology programs, classrooms and a music recording studio are among the additions planned as McNary High School kicks off a year of campus renovation and expansion.

About 100 school district and Keizer leaders joined students, contractors and McNary principal Erik Jespersen for a groundbreaking ceremony Friday on the $53 million project.

“It’s been a lot of dreaming and scheming over the last few years,” Jespersen said.

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

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

Jespersen said school officials also focused on ways to add hands-on learning opportunities, including a science lab and more space for culinary and auto shop programs.

McNary principal Erik Jespersen, left, student body president-elect Griffen Hubbard and sophomore class president-elect Mariah Benitez shovel dirt at the McNary groundbreaking ceremony. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Under an overcast sky, community members watched as McNary Air Force ROTC cadets presented the flag and student Regann Donahue sang the national anthem.

Speakers, including Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark and Father Gary Zerr of the neighboring St. Edward Catholic Church, said the remodel was an important step for the city.

Zerr’s parish was at odds with the district earlier this year over acquisition of church land needed for the school project but it agreed in February to sell.

Zerr said the parish is eager to work with the district and see the project come to fruition.

“It’s very important that two of the largest entities in Keizer cooperate, and we’ve always been able to do that,” Zerr said.

Father Gary Zerr of St. Edward Catholic Church holds a golden shovel following a groundbreaking ceremony at McNary High School. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

McNary is the second high school in Salem-Keizer to undergo renovations as part of a $620 million construction package voters approved last spring. Work on North Salem High School began in March.

Both projects are scheduled to finish in the fall of 2020.

Griffen Hubbard, a McNary sophomore and student body president-elect, said he was looking forward to less crowded classrooms and more space for learning.

“Let’s be honest – we’re all excited for the new additional parking,” he said.

Following speeches, leaders and students lined up for photos in hard hats with golden shovels before turning over a ceremonial patch of dirt placed in front of the school on a tarp.

It was a moment of civic pride for Keizer, with several district leaders declaring themselves proud residents or parents of McNary students.

Chuck Lee, the school board director representing Keizer, called the city “God’s country, where the educators are brilliant, the students are amazing and the sun always shines.”

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

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