Here are the problems at D91 high schools, and why officials want a $99.5 million school bond
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IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Falls School District 91 has been trying for more than a year to convince voters to approve a bond to rebuild or renovate its high schools. A $110 million measure failed to get the two-thirds supermajority of votes in November. That bond called for a new Idaho Falls High School and a significant remodel of Skyline High School. During that election, opposition groups said the cost was simply too high, and renovations weren’t needed.
But parents, faculty members and board trustees in District 91 are re-emphasizing the upgrades are needed. The school board has revamped its original asking price — and is now asking voters for a $86.2 million base bond with an additional $13.3 million bond. The bonds add up to $99.5 million.
Board members and parents in support of the bond say it’s time to stop talking and show the public why they won’t stop fighting for new and better schools.
Board trustee Deidre Warden and D91 parent Janet Lightheart recently gave EastIdahoNews.com a tour of Idaho Falls High School and Skyline High School to show us why they believe the bond is necessary.
IDAHO FALLS HIGH SCHOOL AND THE CIVIC AUDITORIUM
The negotiated-use agreement with the city of Idaho Falls is viewed as a major difficulty with school’s current setup.
“There are a lot of overlap. The HVAC system is housed over near the gymnasium in the high school portion, but it supplies the HVAC for the Civic Auditorium,” Warden says.
The city owns the Civic Auditorium and the art and band rooms.
“Every summer we enter into a negotiated-use agreement with the city for the use of those classrooms during the day,” Warden says.
The school must rent the art and band rooms of it needs them outside of regular school hours. If the school needs to use the Civic Auditorium, it must be rented as well.
“For any concerts, if we choose not to use the Civic Auditorium then we go and use Taylorview (Middle School’s) auditorium, which is very difficult with all of the instruments,” Lightheart says. “I just think of the band and all of their percussion instruments. They have to load up a trailer and take all of the stuff over to another school.”
English teacher Danae Rogers says the difficulty she faces is when unvetted patrons enter the school during a Civic Auditorium event to use the high school restrooms. Warden said the auditorium doesn’t have ADA acessible restrooms.
“People in there are always allowed to open the doors to our school and I’ll have adults coming all around here. Kids that we don’t know who aren’t a part of our school are using our restrooms and other things,” Rogers said.
Along with the Civic Auditoriums access to the high school, Lightheart says there are 17 open doors in the school during school hours.
“Anybody can get into at any time, and that is very difficult to change because of how the school is set up,” Lightheart says.
Warden says during school, students have to go to classes in other buildings on campus grounds. They are required to cross a retention pond and if they are disabled, they must use a sidewalk to get to their next class.
“Everyday, whether it’s raining, snowing, dry, muddy, icy, the kids have to go back and forth to their classes. It isn’t safe, and it isn’t sanitary. If we have kids with limited access, they really struggle to get to their classes over there,” Warden says.
CAFETERIA AND OVERCROWDING
As the school was built in the 1950s, it predates federal school lunch programs, Warden says.
“Idaho Falls High School was built before the federal food programs and the lunch was expected of the schools, so the cafeteria is a retrofit,” Warden says.
The school is equipped to house a total of 300 kids for lunch. Six hundred of the school’s 1,200 students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
“We have inadequate seating just for our free and reduced students,” Warden says.
Students find spaces in the corners of hallways or in classrooms to eat their food.
As students work in original and remodeled chemistry labs, they are sitting in stadium-style seating.
“They usually have overflow down the aisle,” Warden says. “The stadium seating is really inconvenient for the teachers to teach. They have to reach over all of the kids to pass down papers. If she’s trying to help a student who’s next to the wall, it’s very difficult.”
Lightheart says Idaho Falls High School is definitely not the best environment for students to be in.
“The classrooms, the lack of accessibility to technology and the lack of ability to have this be a safe place for people with disabilities. It is not set up for that,” Lightheart says.
ELECTRICITY AND WIFI
For students to have more access to electrical power, hanging extensions cords hover over desks for students to pull down. Because the cords recoil and are high up, students have to climb onto chairs or tables to pull them down, which Lightheart says causes a safety hazard.
Lightheart has three children attending school in the district, and says they’ve struggled to adjust to the school’s retro environment.
“Compared to my old school that I came from in Oregon, it’s definitely a lower quality school. It’s harder to access the internet and it’s harder to get around,” freshman Scotty Lightheart says.
SKYLINE HIGH SCHOOL
As with Idaho Falls High School, students at Skyline High School have to hold concerts at a nearby middle school.
Assistant Principal Heidi Crouch says it would be better and more convenient to have an auditorium or performing arts center on school grounds.
“That would be nice to have the facility on the grounds. I think that would be a good thing for everybody in the community on the west side,” Crouch says.
Crouch says plays the theater students perform in have to have longer than normal runs to ensure all patrons and family have time to see the productions because of limited space.
“The play will run four to five days so that they can get all those family members to come to it at some point and time. As you can see, we don’t have a lot room for 200 people. I think this one (theater) fits 90 people” Crouch says.
Crouch says the state inspector has informed the administration that the school is overcrowded, a fact that she and students are more than aware of.
The school was originally built in the 1970s as an open concept facility. As the building has been modified and added onto metal framework, sheet rock has been installed to provide more barriers for classrooms.
“Now one classroom became two classrooms and that’s where we’re at with the sizes of the classrooms,” Crouch says. “We’re trying to fit in 35 desks in some of these classrooms, which is very difficult… it’s a problem for egress – getting in and out of the classrooms without a desk or something in the way.”
One teacher says her desk chair is pressed against the white board to accommodate space for students.
“Usually I have about 36 desks. I just bring these tables back so that my chair rests against the board and the tables come all this way and then you can add a whole other row of desks,” teacher Julie Nawrocki said.
Warden says after working on purposed solutions, she feels the best thing to do is build a new Idaho Falls High School, and repurpose the existing structure into a career technical school in its place. Currently, students are housed throughout the district at various school as they fulfill their career technical credit requirements. She also believes Skyline High School should undergo an extensive remodel.
She says she will not stand behind a remodel for the Idaho Falls High School because it will not accommodate the growing population of students and it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“It would accommodate 300 students in the morning, 300 students in the afternoon and it would house the administration offices for the district and it would house the career technical administration,” Warden says. “I think that we are much wiser to build a new building to house the comprehensive high school and repurpose this building for career technical education. And, again so that people don’t forget that this also includes a remodel of Skyline,” Warden says.
She says the new building will fit about 1,300 students. They will also have a structure for eight classrooms to be built in following years to accommodate an additional 200 students. This would bring the capacity up to 1,500.
“If this bond passes, we will be able to touch every secondary student’s education and they will have the facilities that they need to have a flexible modern education delivered to them,” Warden says. “The one thing that I would ask people to remember is that this is not a bond for just one school or one group of kids — this bond will touch every single high school student in the district.”