Sound Off: School questions, with answers

(Editor’s note: In the following letter, the writer directs questions to Oak Harbor School District administrators. We asked Superintendent of Schools Rick Schulte to provide answers, which appear after the letter.)

The questions

I have been reading with great interest, the comments made regarding the Oak Harbor High School Bond issue. I agree that our students deserve a safe, clean environment in which to learn.

However, I don’t feel that a 32-year-old building is ancient. Many high schools, in fact I attended one, are 100 years old. Students are still attending school in that same building today. Was it renovated? Yes, many times.

I have a few questions which I feel the Oak Harbor High School District administrators need to answer with honesty and integrity before I decide how to vote:

1. Why was Oak Harbor High School Built to last only 30 years?

2. In l990 through l992, did Oak Harbor High School undergo a total renovation, starting at the roof and going through to the floor? Did the renovation include new plumbing, new wiring, new heating and ventilation?

3. Is it true that the “new gym” constructed during the major renovation of 1990 to 1992 was built to double as an auditorium? Is it a fact that the new gym was completely wired for stage lighting, sound, and has a portable stage?

4. Do the enrollment figures, in your lovely brochure, include students who are home schooled, and/or students enrolled at Skagit Valley College in the Running Start program, and/or students enrolled in any other “off campus” alternative program?

During times like these, rumors fly. I am sure that other concerned citizens would appreciate reading the school district’s response to my questions in the Whidbey News-Times. The truth is all I ask.

J.F. Soberanes

Oak Harbor

The answers

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.

1. Like the school you attended, Oak Harbor High School is a solid brick building on a good foundation. It is not falling apart and might very well be standing in 100 years, as long as it has periodic remodeling and upgrades. Every school is expected to need major remodeling at 30-year intervals. That’s why the state provides matching funds to modernize schools 30 years old or older.

The reasons for this fall into three broad categories. First, most of the infrastructure has a life expectancy less than 30 years. This is true of the roof, heating and ventilation, electric, and plumbing systems. Parts become unavailable and maintenance costs become excessive.

Second, schooling has changed significantly in the last 30 years, especially concerning the use of computers and vocational classes. It’s not just shop anymore. It’s career-technology training, qualifying students for college credit and jobs out of school.

Third, there are safety considerations that were not issues 30 years ago. This includes seismic strengthening, access for people with disabilities, and the ability to monitor and lockdown more than 60 entrances into the school.

2. In 1991, the school was enlarged to add ninth grade. Classrooms and a new gymnasium were added, but only the office area was modernized at that time. For the most part, the roof, plumbing, electric, heating and ventilation are all from the original construction. It’s important to note that while classrooms were added to handle the 30 percent growth in the student population, the commons areas, such as the cafeteria and hallways were not expanded.

3. The new gym, built in 1991, does not double as an auditorium. It is the only room in the school, however, capable of holding the entire student body. Special all-school assemblies and graduation are held there using a small foldable stage platform and portable sound system. There is no stage lighting.

4. At the beginning of this school year there were 1,696 “full-time-equivalent” students at the high school. The actual number of students is closer to 1,800, but several students are part-time, splitting their time between OHHS and Midway or Skagit Valley Community College or home schooling. That means during peak periods of the day, the school must be able to accommodate a student body of 1,800.

Rick Schulte

Superintendent of schools

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