Students from Sehome High School cut a ribbon during a grand opening ceremony on Feb. 1, 2019. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin
The newly-remodeled Sehome High School opened for the first time on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Students, staff and community members were in awe when they walked into the newly constructed building for Friday night’s ribbon-cutting and official opening ceremony.
“It was the quietest I had ever heard a group of high school students when they walked into school Wednesday morning,” Principal Michelle Kuss-Cybula said. “Their jaws dropped to the floor.”
The $103 million remodel started over two years ago and was scheduled to open in August of 2019. The early opening of the new high school surprised many, especially Sehome’s seniors, who will be the first graduating class in the new building, senior Kirsten Oblander said.
“We spent most of our high school career in the other building so it’s a little weird to transfer over, but I think after a couple weeks here, we will break it in,” Kirsten Oblander said.
The original Sehome High School opened 52 years ago in 1966. It was the second high school to open in Bellingham, after Bellingham High School, which opened in 1938.
Three alumni from the second graduating class of Sehome High attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Feb 1. Marolyn Bob, Debby Brown and Rae Williams joined the community as they helped celebrate the new school building.
“We all met here in 1969, and we have been the best of friends ever since,” Rae Williams said.
Sitting together on the new steps leading into the cafeteria, they gathered in honor of their alma mater.
“We have a lot of happy memories associated here,” Debby Brown said.
In Friday’s opening speeches, Greg Baker, superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools, spoke to the gathered community members, quoting Gordon Carter, the original superintendent in the 1960’s.
“We decided we should have a building that can stand change without too great of expense, and to modernize it to fit a new situation, in one word we want flexibility,” Baker said. “Time will be the judge of how well the new school building will meet the needs of the citizens of tomorrow.”
With the new infrastructure complete in time to start off spring semester, the 187,000 square foot building is now ready to take on a student body of 1,200. The school can now properly manage the space needed for such a vast number of students, according to a flyer handed out during the event.
One of the biggest changes made to the design, according to Kuss-Cybula, was the newly-configured layout for the student breakout rooms.
“The old school had outside breakout rooms; it is a California design that just doesn’t work in Bellingham,” said Kuss-Cybula.
These rooms are where students gather before school, during breaks or after school. The new placement of the breakout rooms are in heated buildings, which is more practical weather-wise for the Bellingham-based Sehome students, explained Kuss-Cybula.
The building includes 36 new classrooms, 11 labs, a 400-seat state-of-the-art theater, two gyms and a library with an outside deck.
Julie Ross-Buckmaster, a science teacher at Sehome, also attended the welcome ceremony.
“I feel like my room is a celebrity and every morning I walk in and I say, ‘Oh nice to meet you,’” Ross-Buckmaster said.
According to a flyer handed out during the assembly, the design also features sustainably-minded additions, such as 2,553 new LED lights that provide a 26 percent on energy savings. During the building process, Dawson Construction, the leading construction company for the renovation, helped to incorporate the original wood used in old gym floor and apply it to the new stair treads, benches and wall panels throughout the new building. The school has also made plans to add solar panels to the roof, according to Jeremy Carroll, vice president of Dawson Construction.
Junior Madison Dominguez reminisces on the quirks of the old Sehome High School building.
“Our old school had a bomb [shelter], that’s how old it was,” Dominguez said. “There was a lot of murals that I will miss at the old building, that’s what made it unique and homey. But this school is beyond what I could have imagined.”