WARRENTON — The Warrenton-Hammond School District starts negotiations next week with Warrenton Fiber on a new master campus on nearly 60 acres the company owns on a gradual hillside nestled between the Old Skipanon Creek, business parks along Dolphin Avenue and subdivisions south of the North Coast Business Park.
Mark Jeffery, the school superintendent, has described the site as one of the last plausible properties inside city limits, but outside the tsunami inundation zone and wetlands where the school district can fit a master campus.
The site also presents a potentially synergistic development for Warrenton Fiber, which owns much of the uplands in the area and is developing a new subdivision next door.
The school district’s purchase of the property would be contingent on voter approval of a $38.5 million bond in November. The bond would also fund the construction of a new middle school as the first phase of a K-12 campus.
The district looked at three sites for a new campus.
One was on county-owned, industrial-zoned land in the North Coast Business Park. Another was on agriculturally zoned land owned by Warrenton Fiber along U.S. Highway 101 Business near Trails End Recovery, in an area known as Airport Hill. While the property on Airport Hill would have been cheaper, it faced several hurdles because it is just outside district and city limits, Jeffery said.
“Oregon’s land use laws are designed to prevent us from doing what we were looking to do out at Airport Hill outside the urban growth boundary,” Jeffery said. “That urban growth boundary, there’s a reason for that. We would have had to prove that we couldn’t build anywhere else.”
The Warrenton Fiber site near Dolphin Avenue presents the school district with 50 somewhat flat, buildable acres significantly above sea level, in a high-density zone suitable for a school campus and near utilities, Jeffery said. The site is also close to law enforcement, with the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office to the north and the Oregon State Police to the west.
Just east of Warrenton’s proposed master campus, contractors for Warrenton Fiber are laying out the design for the first phase of a new 74-home subdivision called Roosevelt. The company hopes to break ground in the fall on the first phase, which includes about 30 homes, said John M. Nygaard, a member of the company’s leadership.
Once the layout of Roosevelt is approved, construction can start on the new S.E. Bugle Avenue from 19th Street, between the former youth jail and the sheriff’s office headquarters, south to Roosevelt. The subdivision will also likely provide a necessary second access point to the campus and a connection to Dolphin Avenue, Jeffery said.
The area around the campus represents one of the few industrially zoned, developable areas in Warrenton out of the tsunami zone, Nygaard said.
“We are getting kind of a business park feel on the front of Dolphin,” he said.
While it prepares to negotiate the property purchase, the school district recently began meeting with staff and the school board to start planning what the new campus will look like. The initial middle school would be designed for 260 students to alleviate overcrowding at Warrenton Grade School. The campus is about 40 percent over its intended capacity, with more than 800 students expected to start classes next week.
In initial meetings about the master campus, school board members have raised concerns about presenting a quality product but keeping the design simple to avoid the sort of cost overruns faced by the Seaside School District in building its new bond-financed master campus.
The school district has also faced questions about why it is not moving the more populous elementary school grades out of the tsunami zone first. A facilities committee recommended a 2022 bond to move the high school, and a 2032 bond to move the elementary school.
Relocating the middle school first was driven more by what the school district could afford than what it would like to do, Jeffery said. The district had originally looked at relocating all the schools with one bond, but learned it doesn’t have the property values to put out a bond similar to the $100 million approved by Seaside voters. The hope is that as Warrenton grows over time, the property tax base will expand, lowering the per capita cost of future bonds.
If voters approve a bond, the school district will hire an architect to work out the details of a new campus, said Karen Montovino, an architectural consultant. The design process will take about a year, she said, after which construction could take between 15 and 18 months.