Outdated infrastructure in the Grand County Middle School is posing a risk to student learning, a health teacher at the school says.
Sentiments within the Grand County School District that the Grand County Middle School is due for replacement date back to as early as 2007, according to a report from that year regarding the structural health of buildings owned by the school district called the “Grand County School District Facilities Assessment.”
The team of building assessors from MHTN Architects that prepared the report for the school district provided a recommendation based on their findings that the middle school “be scheduled for replacement as soon as reasonably possible.”
The replacement can’t come soon enough for the students and teachers working inside the building.
Brook Shumway, a physical education and health instructor, said during a tour of the school on Dec. 14 that its aging appearance and functionality impacts teachers’ abilities to effectively teach and students’ sense of pride in their school.
“You’re always tracking down an electrician, a maintenance person to get this fixed, to get that fixed,” Shumway said. “It’s just not a prideful thing for the students to sit in a school that’s just not up to snuff, if you will.”
Shumway said that constructing a new school will create a better learning environment for students and make them more “excited to come to school.” He said dealing with maintenance problems while trying to teach lessons has become a “morale issue” for teachers, staff and students.
Water has been known to drip through the ceiling onto students’ desks, he added.
The middle school was designed in 1958, according to the report, prior to the creation of many modern building code regulations and standards.
The report reviews operational needs within the middle school, according to both staff at the time, and a team of building assessors that examined the school. It also contains findings from an evaluation of school district buildings’ earthquake-preparedness.
SEISMIC HAZARD EVALUATION
Whether the school building needs to be replaced due to its seismic hazard has been a matter of speculation among some people in the community who maintain that there’s a low risk of an earthquake occurring in the Moab area.
The school district says the building does need to be able to withstand an earthquake, should one occur. During recent interviews and the tour of the middle school building, district superintendent JT Stroder and business administrator Robert Farnsworth each cited the high cost of required renovations at the middle school to justify spending $27 million on the construction of a new school to replace it.
“You look at other districts that have done remodels; none of them have been happy because you don’t really (address) all the issues,” Farnsworth said.
The team that created the 2007 report estimated that spending for retrofitting the school for safety in the event of an earthquake and to bring it into compliance with building codes could cost “as much as 75 percent of the cost of a new school” and would only “marginally” extend the useful life of the building.
According to the report, nearly half of the building property in the school district, as measured by square footage, rated “poor” or “very poor” on seismic performance evaluations.
These performance evaluations are based on assessor’s determination of how severe a risk to life is posed by falling hazards and building damage that could result from an earthquake.
The walls in the middle school’s gymnasium are only partially reinforced, and could collapse in a concave direction if there was a seismic event, Stroder and Farnsworth said.
“The biggest issue is the masonry not being reinforced,” Stroder said. “I don’t know how you mitigate that without just building new walls.”
As defined in the report, buildings with the top rating of “good” would have “a level of seismic resistance” such that they do not require additional funds to be reinforced. Only the high school and two district buildings received “good” marks on the assessment.
Retrofitting the middle school, which was designated as a “high priority” for expenditures to reinforce the building, was estimated in the report to cost a little over $2 million dollars. To bring all district buildings up to a “good” standard of seismic performance through structural reinforcements, the school district would have to spend $6.2 million dollars, according to the report.
GENERAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEMS
Beyond earthquake hazards posed to students, teachers and other occupants in the school district buildings, the 2007 report also reveals general hazards and infrastructure problems in the middle school, including multiple fire hazards and building code violations.
Among these regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 created certain standards of accessibility inside public buildings; the report found accessibility to be a primary problem with the middle school’s design. For example, none of the restrooms in the middle school complies with these regulations, according to the report.
The middle school building also violated other codes regarding safety features; assessors found that some stairwells lacked handrails and some hallways lacked fire detectors.
During the tour of the middle school building, Farnsworth and Stroder pointed out some of the structural problems listed in the report that still exist.
According to them, bathrooms still have accessibility problems, heating and cooling systems around the school create noise problems inside classrooms and asbestos is in the adhesive underneath the flooring tiles. Years after being installed, the tiles were sealed to prevent asbestos from getting into the air, but to remove them would be a significant cost, the officials said.
In the basement, asbestos danger signs are posted in the areas where electricians access the building’s wiring and internet cables running to each classroom.
Jeff Whitney, the county’s chief building inspector, said the Grand County Building Department has never completed an official inspection of the middle school building.
“That building meets the code for when it was built,” Whitney said via email on Jan. 8. “If a building had to meet all current codes, it would need to be remodeled every three years. That is the schedule for updating the code.”
MIDDLE SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDING PETITION
Stroder has recently faced criticism for declaring that a petition regarding construction of a new middle school failed. The petition would have put the matter of funding a new middle school through bonds before voters. District officials said that petitioners came up 10 signatures short of their requirement.
One of the petition’s organizers, Dwight Johnston, said that the petition was not an attempt to prevent construction of the new middle school, but rather to give voters an opportunity to give input on whether the full $27 million for the new building was desired. He said he was working to bring a lawsuit against the school district regarding its decision on the petition.
According to Johnston, he and many other people who signed the petition expected to vote in favor of a new school construction project, but wanted to send a message to the school board that voters were not properly informed about the project.
In response to these criticisms, Stroder said that the school district has been raising money for the construction project since 2012 through publicly disclosed means and that the project has been the subject of discussion at multiple school board meetings, which are open to the public.
Outdated infrastructure decreases morale in student learning, teacher says
“It’s just not a prideful thing for the students to sit in a school that’s just not up to snuff, if you will.”