All buildings, whatever their purpose, have a personality, a unique atmosphere, a “feel” about them. Walk into the new WestSide High School, and it feels miraculous.
Using the word miracle is not far from the mark, considering the unlikely events that led to this — the opening of a thoroughly remodeled, beautiful, functional, efficient school to house hundreds of deserving students, there by education to be molded into productive and valued adults. Miraculous, perhaps. Real, certainly. And, without doubt one of the great bargains in Wenatchee’s educational history.
We were fortunate to tour the new WestSide High School with Principal Kory Kalahar, Tom Bassett of Forte Architects, and Wenatchee Schools Director of Facilities Bryan Visscher. The building was receiving final touches before welcoming students Sept. 3, and you could sense the pride and occasional wonder as we walked though. WestSide is Wenatchee’s alternative school, a place for students who for whatever reason do not fit the conventional setting. For a quarter century these students were educated in a converted Wenatchee Valley College dormitory, dilapidated and wholly inadequate. Finding the space they deserved was politically and financially impossible, until someone saw the old Eagles Lodge on Ninth Street and began to imagine what could be.
In 2006 the lodge was purchased for Wenatchee Valley College as a music and arts center, but proved inadequate. Then the college and school district joined minds. Land was exchanged and a new music and art center built for the college with contributions and state appropriations. Then the Wenatchee School District took an empty, half remodeled lodge, gutted it, and turned it into the modern and unique space soon to open, at a cost of $3 million plus an $810,00 state energy grant, a fraction of the cost of a scratch-built school. The result is marvelous, open, warm and welcoming with an abundance of natural light. There will be some 250 students using the 10 classrooms and the huge central commons with its state-of-the-art materials, skylights, open ceiling, LED lighting and the most modern equipment available. For the first time WestSide will have a kitchen, a space for students to eat lunch, room for an all-school assembly, things taken for granted everywhere else, but at WestSide, luxuries.
The Eagles Lodge turned out to be sound and useful, but the transformation of the interior is beyond belief. We asked Bassett how the building might be better if he could have designed a school from scratch. “I don’t think we could have done better,” he said.
A ribbon cutting and community open house is set for Sept. 26, said Kalahar. It will be worth a visit, just to experience the transformation. WestSide students, once shuffled off the community stage and all but forgotten, in this new facility at last will be treated as they deserve to be, as valued Wenatchee School District students who have before them the opportunity reach their full potential. The faculty of WestSide have long strived to live up to that promise. With the new building, so will the entire community.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.