A decade after running low on students and closing the doors, the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists sold the former Pleasant View Adventist School as part of a sound barrier around Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center.
The state Military Department is retrofitting the former schoolhouse into the third statewide campus of Starbase, a U.S. Department of Defense-funded youth science and technology academy.
“We’d been seeking that property for a while as a buffer for Camp Rilea, for at least 10 to 15 years,” said retired Col. Todd Farmer, a training site manager at Camp Rilea.
The state paid more than $400,000 to buy the schoolhouse and surrounding 12 acres of field, wedged between the eastern edge of Camp Rilea and the Fort to Sea Trail on the Clatsop Plains. The Seventh-day Adventists had acquired the property and opened a school in 1980 halfway between churches in Astoria and Seaside, taking in students from the first through eighth grades.
Greg Kabanuk put several of his children through the school, served as a board member and still lives in an apartment of the schoolhouse as a caretaker. Kabanuk has resigned himself to the sale, which he said was decided by the church’s regional leaders in Gladstone and is still a sore spot for locals.
“It was not our decision,” he said. “We did not support the decision. The local population wanted to reopen it as a school.”
The state military’s purchase of the campus lined up with an expansion of Starbase, short for Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration. The program started in 1991 through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation and was later included in federal appropriations. There are fewer than 70 Starbase campuses nationwide, including two at airbases in Portland and Klamath Falls.
“It took me a few years to get the funding approved,” said Denise Kortes, state director of Starbase.
Starbase’s mission is to get fifth-graders interested in technology-based careers. Classes from around Clatsop County have been coming for five hours once a week to Camp Rilea. Two federally funded, state-employed teachers take them through a series of science experiments and technology projects spread over five weeks.
The classrooms are equipped with iPads, Lego interactive white boards, Lego robotics kids, GPS units, a full computer lab with computer-aided drafting software and other technological resources beyond the funding capabilities of local school districts.
“We do some labs, but nothing like the resources these guys have,” said Glenn Stelson, a fifth-grade teacher at Warrenton Grade School whose class was at Camp Rilea on Thursday.
Camp Rilea was chosen as a new Starbase in part because students around the county are considered low-income.
“We’ve had entire (classes) come here who have never touched an iPad,” said Jeremy Hand, an instructor with the program.
Kids work in teams and aren’t tested or graded. Aside from short lectures, Starbase’s teachers largely let students experiment with solving hypotheses and get creative with the program’s technology, much of which they wouldn’t be able to access anywhere else in the county, Hand said.
“It’s mostly hands-on — 90 percent hands-on and 10 percent lectures,” he said. “The kids seem to get more from it when they get to experiment. It’s just letting them have it.”
This spring has been a soft opening for Starbase’s new academy. The program is planning an aeronautics camp in the summer and a full slate of fifth-grade classes in the fall, along with after-school programs for middle schoolers.