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COQUILLE — In almost 240 days from now, the Coquille School District will have a brand new Winter Lakes schoolhouse and district trade building.

On Monday, the district broke ground where the construction will soon take place. Superintendent Tim Sweeney showed guests at the ground breaking ceremony where parts of the new school will stand in place of the old Granite Plus building.

Superintendent Tim Sweeney shows where future Winter Lakes classrooms and cafeteria will stand after construction of the new school is finished.

“When we started this, we thought if we had 50 students at Winter Lakes and could get 20 of those to get a GED, we would be highly successful,” Sweeney told The World, looking back at how the district’s alternative school got started. “We have 350 students now and get 68 percent to graduate.”

As he put it, Winter Lakes gives students feeling disenfranchised with the traditional school setting a way to graduate early or recover credits.

“Last year, we had four get their Associate’s Degrees when they graduated,” he said. “When this new building is finished, it will feel like Winter Lakes is more part of the district. The growth we’ve seen at the school is stunning and we’re happy and excited to be here.”

Sweeney explained that the new school will be completed so quickly because it is small. The new school will have eight classrooms, an office and a cafeteria. Not only that, but the total project is costing the district close to $5 million.

“For a school, that is a bargain,” Sweeney said.

 Winter Lakes Principal Tony Jones stood in the doorway of the old Granite Plus building and said, “It’s been a long time coming.”

“We’ve done a lot of planning,” he said. “Each step makes it more real.”

Not only will the new site be a brick and mortar school for Winter Lakes, but will also hold the new trade building for the district. It will house construction, as well as cosmetology programs for students.

Superintendent Tim Sweeney stands with Winter Lakes Principal Tony Jones at the site of the new Winter Lakes school on Monday before the groun…

“Measure 98 funds let us do cosmetology,” Jones said. “We started with our school board with the idea and then our administration teams, making visits around the state to see what other districts are doing. We saw the possibilities and once we get up and going then local students will benefit.”

As part of the trade program, the district purchased two caterpillar construction simulators. One is a front loader, while the other is an excavator.

“It’s just like sitting in the real thing,” Sweeney said. “You push the joystick forward, it moves forward. You put a load into the scoop and feel the weight shift.”

The district used Measure 98 funds and bought both under $100,000. Once students have been certified from using the simulators, they will use an excavator to dig four-foot by four-foot holes and fill them up.

Superintendent Tim Sweeney stands before mock-ups of what the new Winter Lakes school will look like once construction is complete in September.

“We’re working with Umpqua Community College to get a commercial driver’s license,” he said. “A student who gets through the program at 18 years old would, in theory, be job ready.”

As always, Sweeney grinned and said, “It’s a good time to be in Coquille.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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