After months back at the drawing board, Deer Park School is ready to put another bond issue before voters to cover facility priorities. This time, the school is requesting $1.85 million.
The goal is to create more functional and efficient facilities for the 148 students served through renovation and new construction.
A mail-ballot election will be held. Ballots will be mailed May 3 and are due May 22. If approved, owners of homes valued at $200,000 could anticipate annual taxes increasing by approximately $177. The duration of the bond would be 20 years.
A $3 million bond issue was defeated in Sept. 2017. However, the needs remain.
“We’ve scaled back as far as we can,” Deer Park School Principal Dan Block said about the proposed project.
The bulk of the bond money would be used to build a new art/music room, library media center, main office/entrance and a flexible learning room. This would free up existing space to renovate into a dining/multipurpose room and classroom. Renovating bathrooms is also a priority. Improvements would also be made to existing classrooms, storage, infrastructure (heating, electrical and plumbing) and abatement of hazardous materials.
On April 5, Block gave a tour of the school, which encompasses three buildings located at 2105 Middle Road in Columbia Falls. The oldest building is a schoolhouse built around the 1920s, according to school staff. The last major construction project was a gym addition in 2001.
The tour began at the main office where the principal and clerk work. The building used to be a house where teachers lived, complete with a full bathroom and kitchen. The tub in the bathroom is now used for storage and is filled with boxes. In the kitchen, Tana Anderson, the district’s lunch coordinator and office assistant, works at a desk. In addition to a stove, counter and sink are file cabinets, tables and storage for school supplies.
In the proposed construction project a new main office would be located more centrally to the two school buildings in efforts to improve security and visibility.
“People sometimes walk right past the office,” Block said about the current location, noting that plans haven’t been finalized yet as to how the existing building may be repurposed.
Heading outside, Block walked to the entrance of a Quonset hut that abuts the office building. Originally, the Quonset hut served as a gym. Now, it has multiple uses in a setup that poses issues with sound and privacy.
The entrance opens to a large space where Dave Gomez teaches music. Adjacent to Gomez’ desk is where district counselor and Title 1 coordinator Roy McDaniel works. All that separates McDaniel from the space is a half-wall topped by a curtain. In instances where confidentiality is required, McDaniel has to relocate. While not optimal, “You just have to make it work,” McDaniel said.
Toward the back of the Quonset hut, a wall does offer some separation to another room where Gomez teaches art. It is also where Block, who in addition to serving as principal, teaches eighth-grade math.
“When I’m teaching math, music sometimes is going on on the other side. It’s a little bit hard for the students to concentrate because it’s not soundproof,” Block said.
Structurally, there are leaks. This is evident in places where ceiling tiles bow or hang down. The bond issue would fund the new music/art room to be located in the third- through fifth-grade building. Ideas on what to do with the Quonset hut have ranged from demolishing it to using it for cold storage.
Block headed back outside over to the kindergarten through second-grade building that includes the historic schoolhouse, which still has a bell tower. The bell is rung daily. The priority areas in this building are the bathrooms and hallways where accessibility and storage are issues. The entrance opens into a hallway where a couple of students and staff maneuver around each other, and snow boots and cubbies are packed with other winter gear. While hallways and storage are problematic, the bathrooms top the priority list of teachers such as Anne James.
“This is one thing I find super challenging for our building,” said James, who teaches second grade.
One sink and two stalls in the girl’s bathrooms, and one sink, a stall and urinal in the boy’s bathroom, serves about 55 of the district’s youngest students. Using the bathroom takes patience and teamwork, according to James, with kindergarteners getting priority.
Lacking bathroom facilities also pose challenges in the third- through eighth-grade building, where Block continued the tour.
Snow started to fall as he walked over to the building, which was constructed in 1984. Block said the future goal is to eventually connect the buildings to further improve security and energy efficiency.
The main level currently houses fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms, a resource room, teacher’s lounge, bathrooms and a gym. Third grade and the library are located in the basement level.
In small schools, it can be challenging to accommodate fluctuating class sizes. Block used seventh grade as an example. Currently, there are eight students housed in a room half the size of a traditional classroom. Instead of switching classrooms for different subjects — the teachers come to the room, with science as the exception. The problem will arise when lower grades that have enrollments of between 15 to 20 students move up.
“We want to have one functional classroom per grade,” Block said.
If the bond is approved, the new library and media center will be built on the main floor next to the new music/art room. The existing library space would be turned into a classroom. This building is where the district is proposing to renovate existing space into a dining/multipurpose room that will improve scheduling flexibility for physical education classes in the gym where students currently eat lunch.
The public is invited to learn more about the bond issue and the needs at two community forums scheduled from 6-8 p.m. April 16 and May 3.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.