HOWARD — It’s been 18 years since Chip Pozderac joined the staff at East Knox High School. A teacher, yearbook advisor and varsity basketball coach, she’s been a part of the district for a long time. The same can be said for her classroom.
Pozderac teaches high school social studies from the third floor of the original building, which has housed students and teachers since 1939. In some spots, the plaster is peeling off the walls. The worst part, says Pozderac, is the lack of climate control.
“My room pushed one hundred plus degrees with the heat index last fall,” she said. “If you turn too many fans on you can blow a fuse, plus you can’t hear over the fans.”
There’s also a nonstop buzz from the old fluorescent lights. Pozderac is used to it, but it drives some of her students crazy. Another annoyance is the windows—they leak when it rains and occasionally provide a gateway for unwanted visitors.
“I had a bat in my classroom, I’ve had multiple birds in my classroom. There are no screens on the windows,” she said. “The bees are bad. When you don’t have screens, and you have kids that are allergic…”
While Pozderac’s wing of the building is the oldest, it’s not the only part that has problems. The library and certain classrooms had no heat this winter. The toilets in the junior high girls bathroom have been known to stop working. The entire facility lacks air conditioning. There are no elevators—when Pozderac broke her leg a few years ago, she couldn’t come back to school for a while because getting to her classroom simply wasn’t possible.
Needless to say, Pozderac supports administrators’ plans to rebuild East Knox’s junior high and high school.
“It’s not the building that makes the education, but the kids need to be comfortable and safe,” she said.
Administrators and school board members held a school facilities community forum on Tuesday to discuss the need for a new building and a bond issue to fund it. If the bond makes it to the November ballot, it will likely be a 37 year, 3.5 mill bond. About fifty people were in attendance.
The plan favored by the school board and facilities planning commission is to demolish the junior high and high school building and construct a new one in the same location. Only the 1994 addition, which includes the gym and cafeteria, would remain. This wing would undergo renovations including a new roof, bleachers, updated flooring and plumbing, kitchen upgrades and the addition of an air conditioning system.
The new building would house grades 6 through 12 and free up room for preschool classes at the elementary building. It would also include a new space for vocational agriculture classes.
“I think renovating and building is a good idea,” said Mary Ellen Baugher, whose children graduated from East Knox. “It’s probably past time.”
“It makes sense,” said Kyle Keith. “Even from the exterior, I’ve seen the older building looks like it’s in pretty bad shape.”
Administrators say that building a new junior high and high school, rather than gutting the current one, is a more sustainable long term solution. Matt Schwartz, vice president of the school board, admitted that he was initially against the idea, but that examining the current building for himself convinced him it wasn’t worth the cost of upkeep.
“My intentions were to make do with what we got,” he said. “When I got here and looked around at it, it just doesn’t make sense to me putting money into (the current) building…It’s like heating a house with the windows open. Sometimes it makes better sense to start over and that’s where I think we’re at.”
“I think you’d all agree that at some point we have to bite the bullet,” said school board president Dustin Buckingham. “I’m in construction. I know the costs are going to go up.”
In response to concerns that the new high school would not have an auditorium, Buckingham and superintendent Steve Larcomb emphasized that the current plan focuses on needs, rather than wants.
“We have needs that we feel really need to be addressed and we don’t want to loose voters over the wants,” said Buckingham. “We’re not proposing the Taj Mahal here.”
Buckingham told concerned parties he would look into the cost of renting auditoriums like the Woodward for future concerts and school plays.
Larcomb added that rebuilding the high school in the same place, rather than up the hill by the elementary school, allows room for future expansions down the road.
“It leaves versatility with future building projects,” he said. “It gives us options rather than land-locking us.”
When asked if state funds would be used in the project, Larcomb explained that with state money comes additional regulations on how the project would be carried out. He said the district does not plan to use state funding, since complying with the extra rules would ultimately drive up the cost of the project.
Another attendee asked about how the temporary classroom modules would affect traffic and event parking.
“It’s going to be tight…but those are the kinds of things you have to deal with,” said Larcomb. “There are some obstacles to overcome no matter how you slice it.”
He assured that students would probably see the modulars as an upgrade, since the heating and cooling of each one can be adjusted individually.
Larcomb said he will recommend that the board begin the process of creating a bond issue at its June meeting by passing a resolution of necessity. If the bond issue were to pass, his goal would be to move students to modular classrooms and start building demolition by January 2021. Renovations and new construction would be completed by the fall of 2022.