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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

Tour reveals school's deteriorating condition

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(Photo)
This photo is a prime example of the wiring issues that plague the Pierce City Middle School building. Additional electrical lines have been run throughout the building in a haphazard fashion to accommodate growing power needs in an effort to keep up with technology now common to most school districts. [Times Photos by Melonie Roberts]
Pierce City Middle School students call it "Death Hallway."

They're talking about the downstairs hallway in the Pierce City Middle School building. It is lined with lockers and is neatly cut in half down its length by a wheelchair ramp that was installed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for disabled students and patrons of the district.

"When you get 160 to 170 students down here trying to get to their lockers between classes, it gets pretty crowded," said Russ Moreland, superintendent of the R-6 District. "We have to have the ramp for those students who have wheelchairs, prosthetic legs or for those who have suffered a broken leg and have to navigate around on crutches."

The building has no elevator, so a challenged student's schedule is adjusted to meet his or her educational needs.

"Occasionally, we'll have a student with a broken leg trying to get up or down these stairs on crutches, carrying books and having to go outside the building to reach other classes during inclement weather," Moreland said. "It can be dangerous when there is ice and snow on the ground."

This is just one of the concerns that Moreland and the Pierce City Board of Education have concerning the old building that they believe has outlasted its purpose.

The board is hoping that voters will approve Proposition 2, which asks for a $2.4 million bond issue that will pay for site development, construction, equipping and furnishing a new middle school building. The issue does not call for an increased tax burden on Pierce City residents.

If only Prop 2 passes, the current debt service levy would remain unchanged at 66 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property.

To demonstrate the district's need for improved facilities, Moreland offered a tour of the middle school building.

Moreland began in the science room where the students of Lanese Witt-Schulte have an eye-level view of car and truck tires parked just outside the windows.

"When it rains, water comes pouring in through the ceiling and down the walls and around the windows," Moreland said.

"Sometimes stuff falls from the ceiling," Witt-Schulte added. "When people are moving around on the stage just above my room, it shakes the smart board out of orientation, and we can't use it."

Leading the way up the stairs, Moreland pointed out a twisted beam that serves as a structural support that has and pulled away from the wall, creating a gap that continues to grow along the seam of the stairwell.

"We've patched that repeatedly," Moreland said. "It just continues to get worse."

The treads are uneven and flex with the weight of half-grown children and adults as they travel from one level of the building to another.

"We have heating and air conditioning issues in the building," Moreland said. "We have individual air conditioning units installed in only 11 rooms in the building. They are not efficient, because they are not sufficiently insulated. Some teachers have brought in individual space heaters for their classrooms during the winter."

Heating and air conditioning are constant issues for the students and faculty members housed there for a minimum of seven hours a day.

"We're out of power," Moreland said. "The wiring in this building is obsolete, we've expanded as far as it can go. Our maintenance department has wired and re-wired and added as much as they can.

"With all of the electronics in use in today's classrooms, we are no longer able to expand those capabilities."

In the teacher's lounge, a crack in the wall near the floor lets daylight in, as well as cold and insects.

"There are cracks all along all of these walls, not just in here," Moreland said. "We've patched them, but they crack again."

For Moreland and the board, the problem doesn't just boil down to bricks or mortar or wires, but to the building's capability to safely house students and faculty.

"There are more kids than there is room in this building," Moreland said. "They have to go outside to get to other classes, and when they - or anyone else - comes in this building, there is no one here to see it. There is no office where staff can keep an eye out for people coming and going in the building. It's just not a good idea to have people wandering around in the building.

"Our goal is to get everyone under one roof," Moreland said. "In the new building, we want offices where people don't come and go without being seen."

Cost of continual repairs to the building is soon going to add significantly to the district's budget as the building continues to deteriorate.

"We are to the point we need to make a decision on this," Moreland said. "We can't continue to nickle and dime ourselves until we are forced to do something in the long term.

"The building is not designed to meet today's needs," Moreland said. "We don't want the building to deteriorate to the point it becomes a safety issue for students and staff."

A second proposition on the ballot calls for a $700,000 bond issue to finance the development, construction, equipping and furnishing of a new vocational-agricultural facility. If only Prop 3 passes, the current debt service levy would remain unchanged at 66 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property.

"We'd like to get the shop, two classes, the greenhouse and latest technological upgrades under one roof, with large windows for better supervision" Moreland said. "Right now none are attached, and students wander from one area of the campus to another to get to their classes."

Moreland said the building would also house its own computer lab and food science cooking labs.

Area residents will have the opportunity to approve one or both bond issues in April. If both measures pass, the debt service levy will increase from 66 cents to 79 cents of assessed valuation. It would mean an increase of 13 cents per $100 for residents of the school district.

"If people have questions on exactly how much it would increase their taxes, they can contact their county assessor in any of the three counties covered by our district, and they will be happy to calculate it for them," Moreland said.

"As it stands, no one can convince me that this building is the best we can have to educate our children," Moreland said. "Our children deserve better."



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