New career and technical education building ready for students

Pre-engineering teacher Ken Bender surveys the new computer-aided drafting room Thursday.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Pre-engineering teacher Ken Bender surveys the new computer-aided drafting room Thursday.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor High School teachers began the heady task of “move-in day” last week, as construction crews completed the new $7.7 million Career and Technical building.

“I’ve worked for 32 years and I’ve never been this jazzed to come back and teach. It’s like starting all over again,” pre-engineering teacher Ken Bender said.

For years, Career and Technical Education programs were taught in the high school’s D-wing, a circle-shaped building with triangular classrooms. The sometimes awkward space limited work room, and with no interior hallways, the building had students walking in circles.

Starting April 6, students will begin courses in the new CTE building, which will include photography, drafting, automotive and robotics space.

Its completion marks the end of phase one for the school’s two-year modernization project, set at $43 million.

Thursday, Bender stood in the large, airy drafting lab with a wall of tall windows to his left and an industrial, exposed ceiling above. Table tops were covered in electronics.

His former D-wing classroom had a faulty power system, in which a student sharpening a pencil could scramble the computer monitors. The room was also split into two parts.

“It was hard to lecture because kids in the other part of the classroom wouldn’t get the instructions,” he said.

He described his new classroom as “college-like.”

“At community colleges and universities, this is the type of lab you will see,” Bender said.

Down the hall, in room 119, photography teacher Paula Ottenbreit was awaiting 70 boxes worth of equipment to be moved into her new classroom. The room contained 10 wide desks, large enough to comfortably seat two students each.

CTE director Sandra Oehring described Ottenbreit’s former space as “a sliver of a classroom.”

“The students were sitting shoulder to shoulder on their computers,” Ottenbreit said. “There’s no comparison between this class and the last. It’s apples to oranges.”

In the auto shop, crews added 1,200 square feet of space and three additional car hoists.

Chris Douthitt’s video class saw some dramatic changes with $60,000 from a local, anonymous donor for new Macintosh computers. The new soundproof television studio, with adjacent control room, will allow students to broadcast live on Channel 21.

Last week, teachers finished rearranging their furniture, and next week, the “close out” process will begin. Phase one contractor Ebenal Construction will turn over the building to the school district after final inspections.

While crews managed to finish the build on schedule, construction was hampered by a few unexpected problems along the way.

Last October, a testing agency noticed the concrete floor to the CTE building was unevenly poured. Cracks soon formed, and the floor was removed and poured a second time. Crews made up for lost time by working six-day weeks for two months.

And in the winter months, snowy conditions delayed workers and equipment.

Romero said Ebenal remained under budget, despite the hang-ups.

Contractor Spee West will continue with phase two, construction of the Commons building and A-wing, until fall 2010. Construction for the CTE building began last year, in May 2008.

The high school will offer a community open house in the first week of May, featuring several CTE student projects, Oehring said.

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