WCHS opens doors for tours

Donelle Pardee Whiting
Washington Community High School superintendent Dr. Jim Dunnan shows how the concrete is crumbling on a set of stairs leading from the main school building to the parking lot behind the school. Students often take that route to get to classes in the Ashbrook building.

In an effort to inform voters why Washington Community High School Board of Education members are asking them to approve an $18.4-million renovation referendum, the school is opening its doors for tours.

The school administrators took interested community members through the school before the March 9 school board meeting.

Monday was the first of two tours during school hours.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Dunnan said the purpose is to allow residents to see the outdated conditions while students are in the building.

He added it allows visitors to get a truer idea of the demands being placed on the aging building.

Chris Armstrong, a strong opponent to the referendum, said the school does not need to spend that much money at this time.

He added the school and community would be better off if the school board would wait and put the item on the 2010 ballot.

The public would be better served, Armstrong said, if the school board would authorize the much-needed Health and Life Safety work which adds up to only $200,000.

More strategic planning is required, he said, adding that his goal was to implement compliance needs and high value “wants” immediately while developing a revised, better aligned concept proposal for the April 2010 ballot.

However, school officials and the Citizen’s Referendum Committee argue that the renovation work covered by the current referendum is long overdue.

Visitors to the school Monday were shown how in room 215, Holly Davis barely has enough room to teach.

Davis added that her room is not climate controlled.

In the summer, Davis is forced to cut short her teaching, turning off the lights off and using fans to try to keep students from overheating.

In the winter, students oftentimes are forced to wear their coats.

Under the current renovation plans, the entire school would be provided with air conditioning and improved heating.

In addition, all the windows, which are single-paned glass, would be replaced with more energy efficient windows.

In room 234, Lisa Telford’s science students have to switch rooms with another class if they are to be able to conduct labwork.

Telford’s room is supposed to be a biology lab; however, she said biology students cannot conduct dissection labs or look at slides under microscopes.

There is only one sink in room 234 and there are not enough outlets.

Telford added that her students lose five to 10 minutes of class time when they have to move to another room.

Room 232 causes other issues, Telford said, because although there are outlets, they are in the ceiling.

In the chemistry lab room, there is not adequate ventilation to allow distallation-type experiments that are the basis for college science, Telford said.

Armstrong said he feels air conditioning, added floor space, new lab equipment, etc., failed to meet a request for input on what was needed to deliver improved test scores and Adequate Yearly Progress.

However, Davis said when students are too hot to be engaged in class, their performance drops.

“I have had kids pass out or need to get water because of heat,” Davis said, adding that a comfortable environment is essential to keeping students engaged and learning, thereby improving performance.

In addition, Davis said, when they are too hot or cold, tempers tend to flare causing disruptions.

Telford said without the ability to perform certain labs, students fall short of what they need for college.

Orientation to Technology teacher, Sara Murphy-Ege, said her problems are not so much with temperature as it is the electricity.

When all the computers in the adjacent lab are on, half her room will lose power because of a tripped circuit breaker.

“It makes me sick that we put a community center before a new high school,” one parent on the tour said.

Dunnan said Five Points Washington shed a spotlight on how much work the school needs.

Another issue Armstrong has is the creation of new band and choir rooms and wrestling space.

Band director Jim Tallman said the students the tour groups see crowded in the band room during class time are only one-third of the band.

In the fall and winter, band students overflow into the choir room because of marching band and concert band.

With the art rooms directly below the band room and next to the weight room, students are forced to either listen to the band practicing in the room above, or the music from next door.

Photography teacher Tiffany Wyse-Fisher said it is not conducive to a learning environment when there is not adequate soundproofing.

The preliminary renovation plans call for an addition to house both the band and the choir.

The art classes will then move into the vacated rooms upstairs, and the old art rooms would possibly become administration offices, such as the dean’s office.

Armstrong suggested using Five Points Washington for some of those needs, but Dunnan said the school has an agreement with the community center for use of the theater and pool.

Plus, Dunnan added, they are locked into so many dates. Anything above and beyond would require rental fees.

Several parents on the tour expressed disgust at the condition of the school, saying the district should be building a new school.

Washington School District 308, however, has a maximum bonding cap of $26 million, and a new building would cost $60 million, Dunnan said.

School administrators will conduct another midday tour from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. There will also be another tour at 5:30 p.m. March 30 prior to the Meet the Candidates night for board of education candidates.

Anyone with questions is welcome to call him at the school, 444-3167, ext. 110, Dunnan said, or they can visit the referendum committee’s Web site at www.wchscrc.com.