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New High School Makes No Sense

June 21, 2010

I attended the ‘work session’ tonight.  I’m glad I attended because the words I heard will never be uttered in a televised presentation.  After listening for only a few hours, I know that a new high school makes no sense for Timberlane.

The Goal The goal is to ‘fashion the buildings to match the educational philosophy‘ of the SAU. 

The Plan The plan is to to build a new high school at a cost of $48mm, renovate the existing high school to serve as a middle school for another $22mm, and knock down 80% of the middle school.

We are not replacing buildings because they are structurally unsound.  We are not building because we have run out of room.  We are going to spend $70,000,000 so that TRSD can teach our kids in buildings that match the educational philosophy of the administration.   I wrote those words down and I have to keep reading them because I cannot make sense of the concept.  As Mr. La Salle explains it, schools built in the sixties are not well suited to a 21st century educational experience.Three questions were asked by attendees who were not members of the faculty or school board…

  1. Mark Acciard asked how much we can expect the new projects to improve the performance of our children.  Mr. La Salle said that he did not expect the project to positively impact middle schoolers but was confident it would help high schoolers a lot.  He explained that the middle school was already very good and had been named middle school of the year.  Mr. La Salle said that this was due to curriculum improvements.  The architect said that the new middle school would be a more suitable place to teach the newly implemented curriculum.  Mr. Acciard asked, “Form follows function?”  The architect said that was so and that a new high school design did not yet exist because the SAU was still working on the curriculum they were going to teach and that the new design would be tailored to the new education plan.  At this point, I was looking around the room at the smiling board members.  Unless I’m wrong, Mr. La Salle told us that all we needed to do to improve the middle school to best in the state was teach the right things well 180 days a year.  Since the facilities manager, La Salle, and the architect (who did a study) all told me that the middle school was structurally sound, I don’t want to move our award winning students out.
  2. I asked how the HS kids would get from the HS to the PAC for class.  The new HS is not close to the PAC.  As the bird flies, it’s a few hundred yards, but the road between the building meanders.  It would not be reasonable to ask the kids to walk between the buildings in less than ideal weather and the walk would eat up their class time.  They had thought about this and the PAC will play a larger role in middle school and less of a role in high school.  Turns out the $6,000,000 centerpiece of the last construction project is no longer a cornerstone of the development of our young people.  It can be just as wonderful every other day for middle schoolers.  Music is the only thing our schools do well.  Moving the high schoolers away from the PAC will adversely impact the music programs.  This makes no sense to me.
  3. I asked what kind of risk was inherent in renovating a fifty year old high school as a middle school.  I was assured that studies showed the high school, with improvements, could last another fifty years.

It was also noted that the capacity of the new facilities will be the same as the current and that, historically, TRSD has financed renovations every seven years to accomodate growth.  So, I’m thinking three years into a thirty year bond, they are going to be asking for emergency funding for new modular classrooms to accomodate an unexpected growth in the student body.

Mr. La Salle challenged the school board to find money in the budget that begins 7/1/10 to fund engineering studies that could cost up to $1,200,000.  He warned that a failed warrant would stop engineering for a full year.

Here’s my idea: find the same $1,200,000 in the budget and put it in a capital reserve fund.  Stop plundering the CRF every year and let the money accumulate while we craft a successful learning plan for our high schoolers.  Once that is in place, if we still need new buildings, we can talk.

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