The Blueprint of a Bond Measure



Sixteen years have passed since the last major remodel of Marshfield. It took a dangerous encounter with a crumbling roof for a change to happen and it might take another for the Coos Bay School District to overhaul its facilities.
In 1909, the East Branch of Marshfield was created, serving as the main school building for the growing Bay Area. For almost 90 years it stood until a science teacher, Larry Gerritsen, had a chunk of his classroom ceiling nearly hit him and land on top of his desk. Numerous problems had surfaced before, including leaking roofs, cracked support structures and weakening stairwells. It was not until Gerritsen’s incident happened that the public and community took action.

In 1998, voters approved a bond, or loan, for the district to build a new facility to replace the collapsing East Branch. In two days the building was demolished and construction began immediately on its replacement, Pirate Hall, which was completed in 2001.

School board and facility committee members are working to make sure a mishap does not have to happen before the issues with the buildings today are addressed. School board chairman James Martin acknowledges that many of the facilities need an upgrade.

“As a district, we’ve gotten into a situation where we have so many needs,” Martin said. “All of them [schools] have critical needs.”

Cracked walls, chipping paint, broken heaters, unhinged bathroom stalls, leaking roofs, trash littered around campus and floors that creak and squeak when walked upon are seen on today’s campus, as well as not being up to date to withstand a natural disaster. An anonymous student has even created a social media account on Instagram, @sosmarshfield, displaying the decaying school’s campus. One photo reveals the broken and missing ceiling inside one of the Main Building’s boys’ restrooms.

Aside from Marshfield, Blossom Gulch Elementary continues to sink and the middle schools, Millicoma and Sunset are becoming crowded with the new generation of students coming through. According to Martin, Blossom Gulch, like the other elementary schools, was built in the late 1950s on worn structures atop a marsh. Eventually those structures weathered away, leaving board members to determine that it was unsafe to rebuild on an unstable location.

“That building has served us extremely well; it was expected to stand for 50 years,” Martin said. “But it’s time for us to look for new options.”

With the upcoming presidential election in November, school board members are preparing to seek a general obligation bond for a district-wide remodel. Whether it be adding new buildings to pre-existing campuses or doing an entire modification of the facilities, the facilities committee and board have been busy with planning.

“We’ve worked with HGE architects, which is a firm in town. . . They’ve surveyed the whole district; looking at how many students we have, how many classrooms, hallways, space. . . how much square footage we need if we were to add to the Millicoma and Eastside property, or rebuild the Madison and Sunset property,” Martin said.

Four main options have been proposed, each estimated and created with HGE architects and designers. All options can be found on the Coos Bay School District website ( under the facilities section.

Option one consists of adding a new building for seventh and eighth graders to attend on the MHS campus and demolishing and replacing the Harding building for a multipurpose facility, renovating/expanding Millicoma School, and demolishing the Eastside building. According to the district website, option one is estimated to cost just over $77 million.

Option two would also allow upgrades to the MHS Main Building, adding a classroom building, once again demolishing the Harding building for a multipurpose facility and renovating/expanding both Millicoma and Sunset while demolishing Eastside and Madison, keeping the gym and cafeteria intact. Option two is estimated to cost slightly more than $96 million.

Options three and four consist of replacing the Millicoma campus for a new school and demolishing the Sunset and Madison property, while still upgrading the MHS Main Building and adding the seventh and eighth graders to the campus. Options three and four would cost nearly $113 million and $132 million, respectively.

According to board member Rocky Place, as buildings age with use, communities are given the ultimate choice of whether or not to support the school district. Place said it is essential the community understands the requirements of passing a bond.

“That’s the biggest challenge: Letting the community know what benefits would come from a new facility or remodel,” Place said.

Although current students may not be able to see the changes in their district, students have had varying opinions. Junior Ryan Johnson said there are certain things to consider on reconditioning the school district.

“There really is no easy way to do this,” Johnson said. “That’s why they’re having so much trouble because it’s not cheap, not easy. . . What are they going to do with the people [students], how long is it going to take, how much is it going to cost, how long will the building last?”

Senior Kiannah Emery said updates or new construction would be welcomed by students.

“It’s not just the safety that’s important, but also what new students coming into MHS think. No one’s going to like pale yellow walls and blue painted lockers,” Emery said.

Four meetings have already taken place at the district office with staff and community members focusing on publicizing the district’s conditions and preparation for pre-bond action. Meeting dates can be found on the district website and will be held in the Milner Crest Community Room. Place strongly encourages the community and students to attend future gatherings.

“We have a lot of issues with the building[s], but we hope that nothing has to happen for people to finally figure out that we really need to do something,” Place said.