When the heater turns on at the Grand County Middle School, students can’t hear their teachers lecture.
“As soon as the air goes on in the room, right away everyone’s attention goes to the noise. All of a sudden you can’t hear the teacher anymore; or the children get louder,” said GCMS principal Melinda Snow. “It’s very antiquated and disruptive. It’s something teachers and students have had to accommodate in how they present themselves and listening.”
The antiquated heating and ventilation system was just one of several issues addressed at the Jan. 14 facilities committee meeting held at the school district offices. The school board and facilities committee met with MHTN Architects to discuss the issues with the fifty-year-old building and options that may be available.
Dave Bierschied, who co-chairs the facilities committee with Jim Webster, asked the committee members to have open minds during the process of determining the best course of action.
“Let’s look at the pieces of the puzzle, rather than how we’re going to take care of it all,” Bierschied said.
MHTN Architects conducted a feasibility study to assess the middle school’s functionality and safety, as well as how the environment contributes to the ability for students.
“We’re not here to tell you what you should do. We’re here to tell you what the problems are and what the options might be,” Bruce Barnes, MHTN vice-president.
Barnes went through a long list of issues with the middle school building, which mainly focused on basic infrastructure such as mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing, American Disability Act (ADA) non-compliance and safety concerns.
The issues are evident at the school: Classes are strewn with cords and electrical power strips; internet is limited or unavailable; and brown water comes out of drinking fountains and faucets.
“There is rust in the drinking water,” Barnes said. ‘That’s what your kids get to wash in, drink.”
Four options were presented.
1) Remodel the existing middle school and bring it up to current code compliance to improve mechanical and electrical systems. Estimated project cost: $8,910,862.
2) Construct a new middle school on the same property. Estimated project cost: $13,947,880.
3) Build a new middle school on a new site. Estimated project cost: $13,782,860
4) Systematic replacement of the middle school at its current site: Estimated project cost: $16,220,324.
“The hardest thing to not talk about is the elephant in the room,” said GCMS physical education teacher Kenny Lindsay. “It’s money. How are we going to pay for this? The most frustrating thing is seeing allocations to other schools. We have a new high school parking lot, but we still have students drinking brown water at the middle school.”
Most of the teachers work around it, Lindsay said.
“Few teachers are saying we need better and new facilities. The teachers are not complaining with what they have been given to work with,” Lindsay said. “It’s kind of like an old car where you know all the quirks to keep it going. That’s the middle school.”
Snow said that most of the issues are daily annoyances.
“When we go into the ladies room, we can turn on the fan without blowing out a circuit in the lounge if someone is also using the microwave in the lounge. It blows a breaker,” We’ve gone through a few microwaves because of it,” Snow said. There is duct tape over the vent switch because “if someone flips the switch, they won’t get lunch.”
Snow said that something has to happen.
“Either we need major repair, or we need a new school,” Snow said.
She gets frustrated when she hears people talk about how students go from the brand new elementary school to a “crummy school.”
“It’s not a crummy school. The building needs upgrades, but the children are getting a good education,” she said.
According to state averaged scores, GCMS ranks at the state average or above in language, mathematics and science. It is also scoring higher than both Helen M. Knight and Grand County High School in all three arenas – four points higher in language, 19 points higher in mathematics and six points higher in science than the rest of the school district.
“We outrank schools similar to us,” Snow said. “How much better can they do if they had the facility and equipment to do it with?”
She said that teachers have been creative as they deal with limitations poised by noise, lack of computers and internet access.
“The teachers are finding more time integrating the curriculum with the outdoors,” Snow said. “Maybe it is because we don’t have what we need inside the house, so we go outside the house.”
Snow praised her staff.
“They never complain, other than say ‘I wish we had wireless,’ or ‘I wish we had more ability to plug stuff in,’” she said.