Another year, another facilities tour – this one better than last. In September 2012, I had this to say after attending the annual facilities tour of Timberlane’s schools:
The facilities were, with just two exceptions, in excellent repair and so spotless the tour goers applauded the maintenance staff. Floors gleamed, walls were without mars, windows and doors shone and nothing I saw looked abused. The facilities projected pride, self-respect and solid maintenance…
The praise stops dead at the mini-gym facilities at TRHS. So much rancid clothes littered the change room that the smell was like thrusting your nose into an old runner. Fetid clothes were balled up in lockers with doors open, some hanging nearly off. One expensive football helmet was on the floor. Another, abandoned on a bench. A faucet leaked freely. A few walls appeared to barely remember a coat of paint.
If the point of this demonstration of student irresponsibility and institutional neglect was to impress on the tour members the urgency of a new gym, it did not have the desired effect on me. Yes, the facilities are inadequate, but they are made worse by neglect. Taxpayers are not blind to this ploy which needlessly pits parents against those who would like a rest from ever-increasing school budgets in a time when those lucky enough to be employed are squeezed by frozen wages and escalating costs.
Maintenance of the facilities continues to impress this year after a tour of the high school, middle school and performing arts center – everything clean, neat and in good repair. The two new modular units are fabulous and for a rent-to-own cost of $35,000 a year, not a bad deal. I was especially pleased to see the mini-gym and other athletic facilities we toured showing more care by both the school and the students. The smell was considerably improved, nothing was openly leaking, the walls were painted, for the most part, and equipment was respectfully stored. A+ for effort.
If I were to offer a theme to the tours, it might best be characterized as “Doing the best with what we have which is far from perfect.” Attendees were shown numerous rooms and spaces being used in ways different from their intended design, such as storage areas converted to small offices, labs having to also accommodate desks, shower areas used as storage, even spaces in the PAC being repurposed. To some extent, this is a normal development in any building. In my own home, my dining room is in what was once the living room and my office is in what was intended to be the dining room. With schools, architecture reflects pedagogy and pedagogy changes faster than buildings. The other pressure I observe on facilities is a proliferation of course offerings needing very specific facilities even in the face of falling enrollment. This is not a criticism in itself but an area to be watchful. Any way we can help students gain employable skills as early as possible is to be promoted, and the CAD lab is an outstanding example of this; however, “aerospace engineering” is also being offered for the first time this year. Really? My son has a degree in aerospace engineering and he didn’t begin any aerospace courses until the second year of his university studies.
As for some of the athletic facilities, they are obviously inadequate and poorly designed from the get go. The science labs are crowded. Do we need a new mini-gym? A new high school (as planned)? Last year I wanted to see academic improvement before investing in athletic facilities and my feelings have not changed there. Some money directed to better science facilities should be considered so long as we have the teachers who will make good use of them. Modular labs, if there are such things, might not be a bad investment to see if facilities really do generate academic improvements, or failing this perhaps another modular unit for more classroom space to allow some of the existing labs to be expanded and enhanced, once all the course offerings are rationalized.
In other news, the district’s insurance surplus about which I blogged in August has been taken in cash rather than being used to defer future insurance premiums. That is a good thing.