By the time this year's freshmen are seniors at West Albany High School, they may not recognize the place.

They'll park on Elm Street instead of Queen or Liberty. They'll enter from the south side of the campus instead of the north. As they come inside, they'll pass a new performing arts center, the first since the school was built in 1953. They may even have classes in the school's first two-story wing.

And all of that is just the first phase of a total reconstruction of the 64-year-old school.

Work on West Albany is part of a $159 million bond measure for Greater Albany Public Schools, which voters passed May 17 by a total of 7,605 yes votes to 6,463 no votes. 

Linn County's final ballot return was 23 percent for the election, which also included successful bond requests for school districts in Sweet Home and Jefferson.

Designs are moving forward in all three districts, with work in Sweet Home, Jefferson and on other schools within the Albany district expected to start as soon as school gets out this coming summer. 

West Albany, the most complex of the bond plans, will take a little longer. Crews won't break ground on that project until 2019 and won't be finished with the first phase until September 2020, when this year's freshmen start their senior year.

Greater Albany is planning more bond requests for the future phases necessary to complete the total reconstruction. Those will come later.

"If we do this right in the first phase, I think people will be more more apt to support it in the second," Principal Susie Orsborn said.

'Frankenstein building'

West's original core was built in 1953, with add-ons in 1956, 1959, 1966, 1969, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 2007 and 2010.

District officials sometimes refer to West as the Frankenstein building because so few of its parts actually match.

Some classrooms are long and narrow, others short and square. Floors slope, not because of disability access needs, but because hallways needed to be added over underground ventilation tunnels. Students eat in the hallways because the cafeteria can accommodate only about 300 of the school's 1,340 students.

Roughly half of West's heating system is electronic, while the other half operates by air pressure through the original pneumatic system (crews machine their own parts when something breaks because the systems are no longer made). Sections of the 177,302 square feet of roofing have developed leaks. Restrooms are patched with tiles of varying colors because the matching ones can no longer be ordered.

Because the plan is to replace the entire building over time, not much of the $159 million is being spent right now to fix the smaller issues at the school. What's being done instead, Orsborn said, is creating new learning spaces that can be better used by 21st-century students. 

Phase I

The plan is to build the new West Albany from the back forward, adding on to the south end and remodeling the north until a new building is complete.

Crews will clip off five classrooms at the end of F Hall, which extends from the rear of the building, and square off the remaining space for the first phase of new construction. Classes that meet in the affected F Hall rooms are to be moved to computer labs, testing centers and other flexible use spaces on the main campus, Orsborn said.

The first phase of construction will include adding an auxiliary gym, which will also be used for health occupations, right next to the west side of the current gym. Health occupations classrooms will be put in at the rear of the building so they'll have direct access to the gym space, Orsborn said.

Rooms for a print lab and a student store, plus the entrance space to a new commons, will sit next to the health occupations classrooms. Those areas will fill the squared-off space at the rear of the current campus.

Extending south from that new square will be more new construction. The new commons area will connect a pair of two-story wings.

The west side will hold band, choir, drama and a performing arts center on the ground floor (roughly where the current tennis courts stand) and audio, video and computer labs upstairs. To the east will be art and administration offices on the ground floor and business classes plus more art and "maker spaces" upstairs.

In between the two wings will be West Albany's new front entrance: on the south side of the current campus, with a view of the ballfields at Liberty Elementary School from the front office windows.

Moving the entrance means moving the parking lots. Students will park along Elm to the east side of campus, either at Memorial Stadium or closer to Memorial Middle School. A parent dropoff loop will extend from Elm into the heart of the property, ending right near the new main entrance.

To the west, off Liberty Street, will be a new bus loop, which also will bring students close to the new entrance. A plaza will separate the bus loop from the parent dropoff loop.

A new kitchen and serving room will connect the squared-off south end of the current campus to the west wing that holds the band, choir and performing arts center. That's both to bring concessions closer to the gym and performing arts spaces and allow meals to go directly to students eating in the new commons next door, Orsborn said.

Looking ahead

At 8,000 square feet, the commons area is larger than the school's 5,000-square-foot current cafeteria, but it still isn't enough to accommodate everyone during lunchtime, Orsborn said.

But by the time the old cafeteria is made over — the plan is to turn it into a robotics lab — a second phase of construction should be completed. That construction will include classrooms next to open areas that double as both hallways and small-group gathering spaces, complete with tables and chairs.

Employers have told the high school they want workers who show up regularly and on time, who know how to think critically and who can work together as part of a team, Orsborn said. The new design is meant to make space for that kind of teamwork.

"It's no longer just a hall, it's a gathering place for students," she said.

Everything about the new construction is being designed with multiple purposes in mind, Orsborn said, from putting the health occupations rooms near the gym for access to large-muscle activities to siting audio and video labs in glass-walled classrooms above the band and choir rooms so students can look down on — and work with — the action below.

The design places a heavy emphasis on career-related classrooms such as stagecraft (placed behind the new performing arts center) and business (West is exploring a possible partnership with a credit union that might run a student-centered operation from within the building).

"That's the whole idea about everything: applied learning," Orsborn said.

"Hopefully, it will do exactly what the business community is asking of us."