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Owyhee, Nev. celebrating new school groundbreaking Friday

A photo of the single-story Owyhee school building from across the street, with cars parked in front.
Owyhee School/Elko School District
The Owyhee Combined School is being replaced by a new building five miles from the current school.

The Owyhee, Nevada community gathers Friday to celebrate the groundbreaking for its new combined school, an effort years in the making.

The current school is a patchwork of additions, portables and other “odds and ends,” said Vice Principal Lynn Manning John.

“We thought we were just going to be stuck in this building,” she told Boise State Public Radio by phone Thursday. “We thought this is where we would be, that we would never have anything new for us. So this has really just been kind of a dream.”

Efforts to replace the school, the original part of which dates to the early 1950s, began years ago. Owyhee is on the Duck Valley Reservation; part of the Shoshone-Paiute Nation. Originally, the segregated school was run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but was turned over to the Elko School District not long after it opened.

Students often bundle up in classrooms because the boiler is broken, Manning John said, and there are safety concerns with the building’s open access and proximity to the highway. But the significant number of cancer deaths on Duck Valley over the years – with the school as the common denominator – is what really got the attention of state leaders.

Nevada’s legislature appropriated $64.5 million for the project last year. The tribe is providing the land, five miles away from the current school, and building new roads and utility connections. Manning John said the entire community has been involved in planning the school, which will feature all-season outdoor classroom space, native plants and trilingual signage in Shoshone, Paiute and English.

“It's really important that everybody feels part of it, that when in 20, 30, 40, 50 years, our children and grandchildren are looking at the school, they'll know that their family member was part of that school, and they will feel part of that school and feel a connection with it,” she said.

The emphasis on outdoor space and the connection to the land in Owyhee is unique among school projects, said landscape designer Matthew Adams. As Principal with Eagle, Idaho-based The Land Group, he’s been involved in many school landscape projects around the Treasure Valley.

“Normally we are looking at meeting municipal codes, providing a welcoming environment and attractive school,” Adams said. “For the tribes, plant material is more than that; it's medicinal and it has a lot of meaning. So we've worked closely with them to ensure we're selecting the right species, that everything has meaning and everything's important where it is, what type of plant it is,” he explained.

Adams said his team made a commitment from the beginning to listen to the community and ensure their voices were heard. He thinks the effort has paid off in both the success of the design and in the rewarding relationships made in the process.

Manning John called the project a ‘field of dreams.’

“The tribe is building housing. We're building a new school, and I think we'll see an influx of community members, tribal members, returning to Duck Valley so that their children can grow and be educated here. I like to say that Duck Valley is the only place in the world where being Shoshone-Paiute is normal,” she said.

The community will celebrate Friday with native drum performances, speeches from dignitaries and students, and visit with Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo.

Next month, The Idaho National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training program will visit to clear and level the site for the new school. They hope to welcome students into the new building in the fall of 2026.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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