Demolition claims 64 years of history at Auburn High School

Former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire graduated from Auburn High School. So did Francis “Dick” Scobee, an astronaut on the space shuttle Challenger.

The 64-year-old building where they and thousands of other Trojan students spent their formative years is falling to the wrecking equipment this week. It was the only high school in Auburn until 1995.

Leaks in the roof and a sky-high heating bill were just some reasons Auburn High needed a new building.

“It had outlived its useful life,” said Principal Richard Zimmerman about the school that opened in 1950, when Harry Truman was president. “We were pumping a ton of money into just heating the building.”

Demolition started this week, but it will not leave staff and the school’s 1,450 students without classrooms for the coming school year.

They will occupy a new high school facing East Main Street, located on the other side of campus. It will stand in the same place where an older Auburn High was irreparably damaged by an earthquake in 1949.

Roger Lee, assistant principal and a 1983 graduate, has fond memories of the 1950 school, but he said he will be glad to see the new building.

“The memories are going to stay long after this old school is going to be torn down,” Lee said Wednesday.

The new school is part of a three-year project that includes remodeling the auto shop and performing arts center. The project will also add parking in the back of the school.

Zimmerman said the school district was paying $200,000 a year for heating and maintenance, more than the district’s other three traditional high schools combined.

He said the building had an outdated heating and phone system and serious plumbing problems. It also allowed easy access for anybody wishing to enter, compromising campus security, Zimmerman said. He said the new school will be limited to two entrances.

Zimmerman said it was more cost effective to tear down the old building and build from scratch.

The school district is paying for the project with a $110 million bond approved by voters in 2012.

Memorabilia will be on display throughout the new building, including a 10-by-6 foot shield in the main stairwell. The district also refurbished the original school sign and two historic street lamps that will stand outside.

The school will hold an open house for Auburn community members on Sept. 5, before the first football game of the season.

Zimmerman said he hopes to see the new school last for generations.

“We’ve designed this building to be a 100-year-old school,” he said.