INSTITUTION- VERNONIA SCHOOLS- out of devastation, 1st U.S. LEED-platinum certified K-12 school

IDEA- After devastating floods ravaged Vernonia school infrastructure, Oregon Solutions brought government agencies and community leaders together to locate, fund, and rebuild new facilities on higher ground.

Impact: Bring government entities, the Vernonia School District, industry representatives, civic organizations, and philanthropies together to ensure that Vernonia schoolchildren have access to safe, healthy, and educationally sound school facilities. The collaborative team worked together to scout a location and leverage funding to build a new state-of-the-art school campus.

O/BD Role: To promote a collaboration that could serve as a model for rural communities across the nation, trying to adapt to new economies, when traditional economic engines like logging or mining wither away.

Schools play a special role in a small town. More than just buildings, they're the community's heart and soul, places that link the past, present and future. Located about 40 miles west of Portland, Vernonia dedicate a school that may be one of the most remarkable in the United States. While most cities feature many schools, this rural community now has just one. In Columbia County in 2007, eleven inches of rain fell within 24 hours, causing severe flooding and damage to Vernonia school buildings. As a result, over 700 students had to attend school in substandard buildings and modular classrooms located in the floodplain. Vernonia schools took the high ground, creating a new building for K-12 students. District officials came up with an ambitious plan to build a new single school -- Vernonia Schools -- in one of the highest sections of the city and outside the flood zone. Even in a lousy economy, residents approved a bond issue of nearly $14 million -- adding about $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to their property taxes. Public agencies, private businesses and donors all chipped in to build a $40 million school for kindergartners through high schoolers that will also serve as a community center.

Relationship/Collaboration Innovations: "A lot of people never thought this day would come," schools Superintendent Kenneth Cox told a crowd that awaited a formal ribbon-cutting. "Naysayers said it's just a dream. Ladies and gentleman, behold the dream." "This is our school," said Deana Pearl, whose daughter will start eighth grade. "We paid for it, and we're proud of what we've accomplished." Standing next to her was Heather Lewis, who no longer has school age children, but still voted to increase her property taxes.

• Act as a “living laboratory” for sustainability in rural America

• Integrate a unique K-12 design • Create long-term economic and educational opportunities

• Provide community space for adult education and job skills training

• Foster stewardship of the Upper Nehalem Watershed through curriculum, partnerships, and restoration projects

• Incorporate art and community history

• Foster strong rural-urban connections through scholarship, teaching and community engagement

Sustainable Land and Design Innovations:

• Rebuild a safe and sustainable school system outside the 500-year floodplain

• Leverage funding for school construction

• Expedite the permitting, planning, and construction of the school campus

• Demonstrate a shift to renewable energy and sustainable use of local forest resources

• Design green buildings to meet LEED certification

• 50,000 gallons holding tank of water beneath the school's gravel play area which will be circulated through tubing in the school's concrete floors to cool the building

• 370 tons of wood pellets from six regional sawmills will fuel school's biomass boiler will heat school buildings and serve as renewable energy test case

• High-speed fiber optics system and wireless Internet connections are available in all rooms

Partnership and Funding Innovations:

Sharon Bernal, a Vernonia real estate broker who worked on the bond issue, said the power of the celebration goes far beyond opening a state-of-the art building featuring environmentally friendly materials and infrastructure. "We're a resilient people in this town," Bernal said. "When we proposed the bond issue we had meetings and spoke the truth. We said it would be expensive. The bond passed overwhelmingly. That first year that property taxes went up I wondered if we were going to get any backlash. I grew up here. I know lots of people. Not one person complained."

• Collaborative partnerships led to the identification and permitting of a new campus site

• Raised $30 million out of an estimated $38 million needed for school construction

• In 2011, Federal Emergency Management Agency acquired existing school buildings and awarded $11.2 million toward new construction

• In 2009, Vernonia passed a $13 million bond measure to fund the campus

• In December 2010, construction crews broke ground

• Campus integrates a kindergarten, middle, and high school in three buildings

• Designed as the first LEED Platinum-certified public K-12 building in the country

• Design incorporates green practices to ensure a healthy indoor/outdoor environment

• Campus includes a Vernonia Rural Sustainability Center with science labs and classrooms for adult education and job skills training

• Oregon colleges and universities will conduct sustainable forestry and clean energy research on site

• Campus includes wetland mitigation, a native plant nursery, and identification gardens

• Shows how school investment catalyzes rural economic development and recovery

• Involves the pledged commitment of over 22 organizations to the project

• Includes funding and volunteering from over 125 individuals and organizations

Information provided from article by Tom Hallman Jr., The Oregonian, August 22, 2012, and Oregon Solutions Website;

©Oregon/By Design