Strapped for space

Monday, October 28, 2002

A seemingly endless list of space-related problems at Jackson High School has the school board looking for solutions through a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation project.

"We're busting at the seams as far as student population and storage goes. It's a real problem," said band director Scott Vangilder.

Steady enrollment growth in recent years and expanded program offerings have jampacked students into classrooms. Teachers have expressed concern over the heating system, electrical wiring, basement flooding, mold and mildew, lighting, equipment and a lack of storage.

In 2001, the district hired independent educational consultant Jerry McCall to research and design solutions for the school's space shortage.

McCall spent more than a year studying school data and meeting with school employees and community members before presenting four plans to the school board earlier this month.

Among those plans was the possibility of building a new $35.3 million high school facility on an 80-acre site.

But because of the district's financial investment at the current campus, building a new high school isn't feasible, said Ron Anderson, superintendent of the Jackson School District. The three remaining plans focus on expansions at the present location, with the possibility of a community library or aquatic center through a joint venture with the city.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said the city has been working on the possibility of building a community center for the past three years.

"A joint venture with the school district may be more cost-effective and practical," Sander said.

Sander said there's a variety of ways to fund the project, whether it's through general revenue from the city's operating fund or a voter-approved tax increase.

He said the city council is currently waiting on a final recommendation from the school board in regard to the direction they want to go.

Adding square footage

The high school has 185,000 square feet spread out over seven buildings. All of the expansion plans would give the school an estimated 250,000 square feet and would allow for remodeling and improvements to almost all of the existing buildings.

The plans all include a new 25,000-square-foot spectator gymnasium and a 15,000-square-foot addition to what is currently known as Building C for the music and arts departments.

Remodeling and upgrading the football stadium and additional parking are also in each of the plans. The plans call for the kindergarten annex located on the campus to be used for the high school program.

As a result, the kindergarteners who attend school there would be divided among the existing elementary schools or the district may look into the possibility of building another elementary school, Anderson said.

All of the plans allow for an enrollment of between 1,200 and 1,500 students. The current enrollment is around 1,100.

Anderson said there is no one plan they're leaning toward at this point, partly because the school needs more details on how a joint venture with the city would work.

No time frame

The district hasn't set a time frame for the project, and it may be several months before leaders even get a get a good idea of what the final plan will be. Anderson did say the severe lack of space and the growing student population make the situation urgent.

Jackson teachers agree. For several years, they've dealt with a lack of space and a substandard teaching environment.

English teacher Chris Warren said she dreads walking into her classroom in "the old C building" at Jackson High School because of the condition of the building.

"It's dark, it's dreary. The lighting is totally inadequate. And quite frankly, I think it's ugly," Warren said.

Warren and other teachers say there's also a problem with having only one computer lab available to the 80 teachers at the high school.

"We have to book the lab weeks in advance in order to use it," said history teacher Linda Nash.

High school Spanish teacher Donna Ellis said the lack of space prohibits her classes from accomplishing everything she'd like.

"Our rooms were made for classes half the size we now have," said Ellis. "Containers are stacked to the ceiling and maneuvering around the classroom is often a challenge."

The space shortage may be most evident in the high school band program, which has more than 200 participants this year.

According to Vangilder, the band room was only designed for around 100 students and trying to cram 200 students, their music stands and their instruments into the space is nearly impossible.

The teachers who were involved in McCall's study said they are grateful they were allowed input in the project planning.

The study also included representatives from various community organizations, like the local Rotary Club and Jaycees.

Dale Rauh previously chaired a city feasibility study for a community center and also serves on the Jackson School Foundation board.

"This project is important for the continued growth of the school district. Those aging buildings need attention right now," said Rauh.

No matter which plan is chosen, the school district will seek funding through a voter-approved bond series.

"Any financial issue posed in the community right now may be looked at questionably," Rauh said. "With adequate education of the public about our intent, I think we'll be successful."

335-6611, extension 128

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