WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Piece by piece, a new school, long overdue, is finally taking shape in Warm Springs.
"The project actually started about 30 years ago," Darryl Smith, Jefferson County School District director of operations, said Thursday. "We broke ground three times, so we're really excited this is happening."
Right now, there's only one school in the area. Teachers and elementary students make do in worn-down buildings, some of which are more than 100 years old.
Older students attend middle school and high school in Madras.
"There are some students that ride the bus for more than an hour when they go into town," Smith said.
But the $21.5 million Warm Springs K-8 Academy is shaking everything up.
When the school bells ring next fall, expect changes far beyond new walls and fresh paint.
"The achievement level has been a struggle for the kids at the elementary school," said new Planning Principal Glenna DeSouza. "This school represents all kinds of possibilities for students. We've been looking at a new instructional design."
Smith said the new school will come with a new curriculum.
"The school will be technology-rich, blended learning, and a new model of teaching," he said.
A new principal, and new grade levels -- sixth, seventh and eighth grades long wanted by the community.
"We heard very strongly from the tribes that they wanted to have a little more control over access to education," Smith said.
But for everything new, there's also determination to preserve what's old.
"We're really focusing on the culture of the community and bringing that into the school," DeSouza said.
It's a community effort uplifting a town still stuck in depression.
"A lot of the wood here is from Warm Springs," Smith said. "And we're pretty close to 50 percent of the people working on this project are Natives."
The new school is an emotional project for leaders so excited to give their kids the best.
"That first day of school, I'll be crying," DeSouza said.
The school is expected to be finished in June. Officials say they'll be holding another open house to show the community the progress of the new school in March.
The Warm Springs School K-8 Academy is being paid for by the residents of Warm Springs and also a bond passed in Jefferson County.