By Polly Keary, Editor
It’s not just the burnt-orange-and-wood-paneling color scheme that’s outdated in the classrooms at Park Place Middle School.
The building was constructed in the late 1970s, and in those days, all a teacher might wish to plug into a wall was a projector. Now extension cords snake everywhere to accommodate the current need to power multiple electronic devices.
That’s just one of the things in the Monroe School District that could use an upgrade, and now the school district is convening community members to take part in a year-long survey and study of the district’s most pressing capital facilities needs.
“We have a number of facilities that are older and have some needs in terms of education adequacy, safety and security, and being a
truly appropriate environment for students,” said John Mannix, assistant superintendent of technology at the school district. “The board of directors asked that we undertake a capital facilities process, with lots of input.”
So the district started by putting together a team of people to serve as a steering committee, to meet once a month for the coming year and study the district’s needs in depth.
As they gather information, they will meet quarterly with advisory groups of community members, who will give the steering committee feedback.
The steering committee will study enrollment data, population projections, building capacities, a 2009 facility study and survey and more.
But the main focus of their work will be to identify the needs of the district’s capital facilities, the buildings and property that belong to the district.
Already, Mannix and school district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil can name quite a few things that need attention.
“The average age of our buildings is 37.5 years,” said Mannix. “Obviously a lot of things have changed in nearly 40 years.”
There is a chronic shortage of power outlets, for one thing.
But architecture has changed, as well. The open campuses of Salem Woods Elementary and Park Place Middle School, with separate buildings and open breezeways, were once popular, but have proven not suited to the Pacific Northwest climate.
“Kids walk around outside when it’s wet and haul in leaves on hundreds of feet,” said Mannix. “And it’s safer to have the kids all under one roof.”
Most modern middle schools have two gyms; Park Place has one. Tile floors are wearing out. The heating and air conditioning units at Salem Woods Elementary date to the 1980s.
“The life expectancy is 25 years,” said Ralph Yingling, director of facilities at the district.
The life expectancy of the wooden support posts on that campus is also nearing, he said. One post became so badly dry-rotted recently that Yingling and his crew fashioned another from a log, painted it, bound it with metal strips and swapped it in for the rotten one. But they don’t have the resources to replace all of them.
Concrete catch basins catch rainwater from downspouts around the campus, and sometimes the rain falls faster than the basins drain.
Having kids around large, full containers of water makes Yingling nervous.
And in the parking lot of Frank Wagner Elementary, trees that were saplings when the parking lot was paved are now shading the asphalt, which is buckling up where the tree roots are growing underneath.
The district is full of many examples like those; an earlier report identified $16 million worth of repairs and upgrades that the district needed. It will be the job of the two community groups, the steering committee and the advisory groups, to review the district’s needs and recommend a course of action.
There is still room on the steering committee for one or two more people, said O’Neil. It would be nice, she added, to find some volunteers from the Chain Lake or Hidden River areas, which are currently somewhat underrepresented.
And the advisory group, which anyone can join, will probably begin meeting in late September or early October.
To learn more, or to volunteer, contact the Monroe School District at (360) 804-2500.