Three brand new elementary buildings celebrated their grand opening for the start of the 2019 to 2020 school year, Orin Smith in Chehalis, Fords Prairie and Jefferson Lincoln in Centralia. These celebrations honored generations of hard work and support of communities that prioritize education.

Construction of Orin Smith and Lintott Elementary, which celebrated its grand opening in 2018, was made possible by a land donation from the Smith and Shaw Families. Catherine Shaw voiced the thoughts of many who worked on these projects when she said, “My parents believed and drilled into our heads that a rich educational experience was the key to a bright future for both the student and community.”

A classroom ready and waiting for the first students at Jefferson Lincoln. Photo credit: Kia Huffman.

The Chehalis property was purchased in the 1950s. Catherine recalls the Sunday drives her father would take her and her siblings on to dream about the great hopes he had for the property. “Several years ago, we started hearing about the school district’s interest in the property,” she said. “My Dad was enthusiastic about the possibility of using this land to further education. He envisioned an educational campus with new schools and room for growth in the future.”

Catherine took a moment to look around while standing in the same place she had spent one summer pulling tansy as a high schooler. A lot has changed since then. Now she’s surrounded by supportive community admiring two new state-of-the-art elementary schools. “As I look around here today, I know my Dad’s vision for this property has been surpassed,” Shaw said.

The Board President of the new Orin Smith Elementary School in Chehalis has worked in all Chehalis elementary schools throughout her career. “I personally saw the need for new schools,” she said.

How did we get them?

The specific path to each new building was a little different, but in both Chehalis and Centralia, the answer was the same – an amazing and generous community.

The Ribbon cutting at Jefferson Lincoln Elementary.
Photo credit: Kia Huffman.

People from all different walks of life came together and brought their unique skills to the table to help make these schools a reality.

The Centralia bond was motivated by the saying “Strong schools, strong communities.” Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos said, “On Valentine’s Day in 2017 our dream became a reality when the bond passed. We always remember it was a sweetheart day.” The goal of these two new buildings is to serve the students and the community that made them possible.

“We worked through problems,” a representative from McGranahan Architects said at the opening of Orin Smith. “There are always problems when you are building a project. You face decisions you really didn’t think you were going to have to make when you started out.”

The reading loft in the new Orin Smith Elementary School. Photo credit: Alejandro Gutierrez Camacho.

One of the problems encountered with the construction of Orin Smith and Lintott Schools was the high level of clay in the soil. Instead of seeing this obstacle as the end of the road, it became an opportunity to improve the overall foundations of the schools. Stronger structural fill was brought in dredged out of the Toutle River after Mt. St. Helens eruption.

The members of this community have such a determined mindset even a volcanic eruption became a resource for growth. “The best news is: on time and under budget,” Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin said.

Smith Family representative J. Vander Stoep hopes the new Orin Smith Building will be an inspiration for all youth that attends it. “Orin Smith came from a low-income family,” he said. “If he was starting school now, he would have qualified for free and reduced lunch.”

In middle school, Orin’s teachers encouraged him to go to college. “They might as well have said, ‘You need to go to Mars,'” Stoep said. Orin went on to attend Centralia College, University of Washington, and Harvard Business School, becoming a very successful businessman.

Students celebrating the grand opening of Jefferson Lincoln. Photo credit: Kia Huffman.

Stoep took time to address a misconception about Lewis Country, that because a student was raised in a rural community they do not have as many chances for success. He presented Orin Smith’s life as evidence to the opposite. “You can say, ‘That’s not true,'” he said. “I went to Orin Smith Elementary School and he grew up just like me. He came from the same kind of family and had the same kind of growing up that I had. He made it and I can make it. You’re not going to stand in my way. I can rise to the top just like he did.”

Vicki Daniels echoed his sentiments when she said, “Have great pride when you say, ‘I live in or graduated from Chehalis’ because we really are a unique community.”

That goes for all communities that make up Lewis County. Small communities are the birth places of great individuals. The grand openings of these three new elementary schools exemplify the hard work and commitment to growth that make Lewis County a wonderful place to live and learn.

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