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New Lummi school to open in September

LUMMI, Wash. - In September, Lummi school children will attend a new school - one that is five times larger than the current school, will have a name chosen by them and with the design that will include elements of their culture.

"We want a place of education where our children, their parents and relatives will feel a sense of pride, a sense of culture and a sense of history," Lummi Vice Chairman Perry Adams said when school design was approved.

Site preparation began in June. Lummi officials approved the school design in October. Construction began in November.

The school will be two stories and 120,000 square feet - a larger footprint than a Wal-Mart store. Total construction cost is $21 million.

Lummi spokesman Aaron Thomas said the school will have spacious classroom settings designed for a strong teacher/student ratio and flexible class sizes and roomy "commons area" for students of all ages to gather throughout the day. Two gymnasiums, one of which will hold more than 1,000 spectators during home basketball games will feature retractable bleachers for added function space. Internet broadband capability and telephone/intercom systems will be in every classroom.

Currently, all K-12 grades attend school in one building, which is considered an alternative school. Lummi students either attend school on the reservation or in Ferndale, a neighboring non-Lummi community.

The new school will be open to Lummi and non-Lummi students. Thomas said the school expects 750 students.

The school project is a symbol of the community renewal Lummi leaders have been working toward.

A decline in the salmon population in the 1990s decimated the Lummi fishing industry and left local fishers without income.

Eleven unemployed Lummi fishers were hired by DO/Strider Construction, which did site preparation for the school, and trained to operate heavy equipment. Thomas said those workers have stayed on; they earn $36.05 per hour regular time, $50 per hour overtime.

Lummi officials hope to create more such jobs through its Lummi Dislocated Workers Program.

Quality education is seen as one of the keys to stopping substance abuse on the reservation. Lummi Councilman Henry Cagey has said that prevention activities, jobs, housing and education are necessary in the battle against substance abuse.The school construction shows that the community believes education is important. Construction of the new K-12 school is being followed by construction of a new Northwest Indian College campus.

Lummi received a $21 million grant from the BIA for construction of the school. "We worked 10 years to obtain the grant," Thomas said when the grant was awarded.

Next, Lummi will have a series of local meetings to gather input on the school's interior design. Residents submitted 100 entries in a naming contest; Chairman Darrell Hillaire said school children will pick the name.

Flinco, an American Indian-owned construction firm in New Mexico, is the contractor. The school is being built using steel frames and cement panels, giving it a 90-year average life as opposed to 50 years for wood construction.

In an earlier interview, Bob Doucette of DO/Strider Construction said the school will be a source of local pride. "My message to people is, take pride in this school. Your great-grandchildren are going to go here."

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