COOS BAY — By 2021, the Harding Learning Center will have transformed into Marshfield Junior High.

As the oldest building in the Coos Bay School District, having been built in 1923, the Harding Learning Center has served as elementary school, middle school and part of Marshfield High School, before becoming the location for alternative education programs.

It is also second on the BEST Bond project list, approved at $59.9 million in 2017 by voters, to be demolished and rebuilt to hold new technology, brighter hallways and safer classrooms.

“We are almost done with the designing of the new building,” said Superintendent Bryan Trendell. “The new junior high will be completed in the fall of 2021, one year behind our Eastside School.”

Demolition is expected to start after the holidays this year, pushed back a couple months later than first planned in order for the district to use the same contractor working on the Eastside School.

“We are working around their timeline, so they will bring the old building down when they are ready to start with the new one so there is no lag time in between,” Trendell said. “This helps us because we get to use the gym and facilities during part of next year.”

However, the alternative programs being housed at Harding are already in the process of moving. Most are unpacking at the district offices at Milner Crest, while others are being spread throughout the Marshfield High School campus higher up the hill.

Engineers have already gone into the Harding building to evaluate how to take down the school but keep the gym, which the district planned on saving since the BEST Bond was first discussed.

But the gym can’t be saved.

This surprised everyone after engineers explained that the gym was added onto the Harding Building as a three-sided structure.

“The old building is the gym’s fourth wall, so when Harding comes down you lose the wall and would have to brace what’s there,” Trendell said. “It would cost us more to save it than replace it.”

Trendell admitted that the district was aggressive to think the gym could be saved and still build a new school around it.

“We want to use the money for the building,” he said. “When we did the geotech survey at Eastside, we had a lot of sandy soil and did the pile work, which we didn’t plan on because there is no piling at Millicoma School or the old Eastside Elementary.”

Thankfully pilings won’t be needed at the new Marshfield Junior High because there is good soil. The district will need to bring in more fill dirt to level it off, but not saving the old gym or needing to use pilings will mean more money can be used on the new building itself.

“We will have a brand new gym at the junior high,” Trendell said. “The new building isn’t being called ‘Harding’ anymore either, but Marshfield Junior High. That name was decided on after we put it out to a survey to the public and staff and it was overwhelming.”

In fact, the name “Marshfield Junior High” used to be what the building was called back when Trendell himself was a student there.

“There are a lot of folks that went to school there, that worked there, but it’s so old and those people are old,” Trendell laughed, pointing at himself. “I was in the last class going through there as a junior high school. Our 40th class reunion is in a few years and it will be interesting to come back and see a brand new building. It will be nice to tour my friends and classmates around a new facility.”

He acknowledged that losing Harding might be sad for some, but what the students and staff are getting in exchange “far outweighs the little melancholy people feel in losing an old building,” he said. “It served us well. It was built in 1923, for crying out loud!”

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Looking back on his own time at Harding, he was amused to remember running between his band class at the MHS auditorium down to math class at Harding. He had seven minutes to do it.

“Now kids complain going from Pirate Hall to the main MHS building in five minutes,” he laughed. “It is bittersweet losing Harding, but it’s going to be great seeing a new junior high and it’s nice for me that folks voted on ‘Marshfield Junior High’ because that’s what it was when I went there.”

In fact, Trendell has the old school flag. Of course, the flag won’t be used again because the colors are red and white. The new school will share the same colors with MHS in order for athletes to share the same uniforms, which are purple and gold.

“People have asked if we can just remodel the old building, but it would cost us more than to just build a new one,” Trendell said.

Like with Eastside School, Trendell is most looking forward to the safety features at the two new buildings.

“The old Harding building has nooks and crannies and doors everywhere,” he said. “There will just be one main entrance that is controlled where we can provide a safe place for our kids and staff.”

One of the perks to having a new building for junior high students is that it will help engage them in learning.

“This is the age when getting kids engaged starts to be a challenge,” he said. “But with a new building, there is state-of-the-art technology that is going to pay off and having it next to Marshfield High School means we can still access the upper level classes, particularly for eighth graders for the Career and Technical Education courses. It is an exciting time for the district.”

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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.