Russ Scott admits that the sight, even after four weeks, is still breathtaking.

Scott, the head custodian at La Grande High School, is still struck by the sight of the La Grande High School’s gym, which has undergone a major renovation over the summer. The renovated gym’s many new features include arena-style seating, an electronic reader board, a hanging scoreboard and a new, painted floor.

“When I’m working (in the gym), I still sometimes want to stop and just stare at it,” Scott said.

Many community members got to see what Scott spoke of on Wednesday during an open house and tour put on by the La Grande School District featuring its renovation and building projects. The gym’s updated look started coming into focus a month ago, and LHS’s auditorium was also dramatically renovated over the summer. They were the centerpieces of the open house featuring some of the building and renovation projects funded by the $31.85 million bond school district voters approved in 2014.

The open house kicked off in the LHS auditorium, a facility bearing little resemblance to the one last open to the public in April. A full recounting of the number of improvements might be longer than a list of phrases William Shakespeare coined. The changes include new cushioned seats, which replaced its hard wooden ones; an extension of the stage; aisle lighting; acoustic paneling that allows sound to carry clearly from the stage to every portion of the auditorium; an improved lighting system; and
improved accessibility for the physically challenged,
including two carpeted ramps with rails going to and from the stage plus a level aisle in the middle of the sloped seating area.

La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze emphasized that the renovated auditorium will be available for use by more than school district students.

“We are trying to encourage it to be used from the outside. Don’t think that this is just for high school projects. It is also for La Grande projects and all of Northeast Oregon,” Glaze said.

The first LHS production in the renovated auditorium will be conducted later this fall, but the inaugural event in the gym will take place Saturday when the first Hanna Cashell Memorial Volleyball Tournament will be played. Cashell, a former LHS volleyball star, died in a car accident west of La Grande on April 11.

The volleyball tournament in Cashell’s honor will draw many schools throughout the region, some of whom may be more likely to return for future tournaments because of the quality of LHS’s gym. Glaze believes the renovated gym will make it possible for LHS to host an increased number of athletic events. He said the upgraded gym will be a major draw.

“This is a showcase. It is a gemstone facility. I think we did it right,” Glaze said.

The new gym will offer more comfort for spectators. The old wooden bleachers have been replaced by new plastic ones designed for comfort, and the bleachers also have safety railings to make it easier for the fans to move about.

Those attending the open house also were shown where the new Central Elementary School building is being constructed and the new career technical education building at LHS is being built.

Excavation and foundation work has been completed for the new Central school and soon some of its walls will be going up, Glaze said. The new school being built just south of LHS will cost $14.1 million and is scheduled to be finished before the start of the 2016-17 school year. It will replace the current Central Elementary, which was built in 1954 and is in poor condition.

The general contractor for the school and all of the bond projects is CM Company of Boise, Idaho.

The CTE building, which, like the new Central, is being built with bond funds, is set to be completed by February. Most of the excavation and foundation work has been finished for the project. The CTE building will provide students with a better opportunity to develop skills that will help them pursue careers in promising technical fields.

“We want our kids to be able to go out and do whatever they dream,” Glaze said.

Contact Dick Mason at 541-786-5386 or . Follow Dick on Twitter