Warrenton High School gifted education center

Robert Roberts, founder of R&M Steel Co. in Idaho, has donated buildings for career-technical programs in his home state and in Oregon, including a structure in La Grande High School and another he is planning for Warrenton High School.

WARRENTON — The Warrenton-Hammond School District is getting a steel building for its new career-technical education center from an Idaho businessman known for supporting programs throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Robert Roberts runs R&M Steel Co. Over the years, he has donated steel buildings to numerous schools in Idaho and Oregon, including La Grande High School, where former Warrenton High School history teacher Scott Carpenter is vice principal.

After passing a bond to improve schools, La Grande was put in touch with Roberts, who helped design and donated the steel for a new building to house welding, biomedical, computer design, business and industrial programs.

“They call it their habit of donating buildings to K-12 and (career-technical education) projects … to facilitate those hands-on skills he enjoyed as a high school student,” Carpenter said. “Prior to us, he had donated around 52 buildings in Idaho and Oregon for this purpose.”

Warrenton recently secured $436,286 in state grants for a new building to house automotive, welding and other technology programs. When Carpenter found out, he put Warrenton administrators in touch with Roberts, who offered to donate the building for the district’s career-technical education center.

“We’re just floored,” Josh Jannusch, an assistant principal and technology and science teacher at Warrenton High School, said of the donation. “It was about $75,000 for the building.”

Rod Heyen, principal of Warrenton High School, said the donation will allow the district to spend more of the grant on welding and other equipment for students to train on.

The building will go into a parking lot at the northern end of the high school at the site of a shed used for storing technology equipment. The school district will allow the Warrenton Fire Department to burn the shed down for firefighting practice. A contractor will complete the demolition. The district hopes to complete demolition by spring break, begin construction on the new building in the summer and open the center next year.

Warrenton High School, along the western banks of the Skipanon River, is just outside the tsunami inundation zone on maps established by state law. The law restricts construction of essential facilities like hospitals and schools inside the inundation zone, which is expected to eventually encompass the high school campus.

The school district is gauging public opinion before the Warrenton-Hammond School Board decides whether to embark on a series of bond measures over the next 14 years to move schools out of the inundation zone. A plan proposed by a facilities committee would start with an initial $32.4 million bond in the November election to buy a 70- to 80-acre master campus and build a middle school.

“Between the time of passing the bonds and getting the permits, that tsunami line could go back” to encompass the high school, Superintendent Mark Jeffery said.

While it might seem strange that the school district is rushing to build in an eventual tsunami inundation zone, it could be a while before the high school is moved, especially if bond funding is not available, Jeffery said.

Even if a K-12 campus out of the tsunami inundation zone is built, the district plans to hold onto the high school property as a regional career-technical education center and bus barn.

“What anchors that is the fish hatchery,” Jeffery said of the student-run fish hatchery along the banks of the Skipanon. “It can’t move.”