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It's time to retire this relic of a building

January 20, 2013 12:10 am

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A new Stafford High School would address issues of overcrowding, outdated facilities, and fire code issues.

IT'S INTERESTING how Ruth Olsen in her letter to The Free Lance-Star can know about fixing Stafford High School without having ever been in the building ["New is not necessarily better: Fix SHS," Dec. 2]. I've been working in that building from the day it opened in 1975.

The building is not like any other school in the area. We have moveable metal partitions to allow reconfigurations to meet evolving needs. Originally, there were not even four walls to a classroom, but three, open to the hallway. Metal walls amplify sounds, and my students can hear the movie in a neighboring classroom almost better than those students can hear it.

When we finally got four walls, the doors were left out. That's right: no doors! It was quickly realized that this wouldn't work. They added the walls and the doors within the first five years of the building. I remember an assistant superintendent stating that all the classrooms had doors until she came to the school and saw for herself that many rooms were without doors.

The classrooms were built to accommodate many class sizes. This year a class of 38 students could not use the German-language classroom as it has an occupancy of only 36. The fire marshal has inspected our building and held us to the same standard as a newer building, and he should. No one wants students or staff endangered by failing to follow code, but it comes at a cost.

Millions of dollars were spent in renovation, and the staff was so excited. But this made the building worse. It added new space for the guidance department and built more classrooms, but the rest of the building had electrical outlets lost power even though they had worked before. There were never many outlets in a room, but then to have one not work? Extension cords are prohibited, according to fire code, and Internet connections that had been added to the building were cut and made useless.

With today's need for electricity for smart boards, data projectors, computers, speakers, and scanners, one or two nonfunctioning outlets is a problem. Why haven't they been fixed? What about computers? My students use a Computers On Wheels cart all day, but when we use them after school, the battery needs recharging. We must plug in 15 or so computers at a time: There are not enough outlets for that to happen, even with surge protectors.

We can fix that, right? No. The entire school needs more electrical lines and we don't have the money to do that. The electrical box is used up. No more lines.

PLUMBING ISSUES, TOO

What more could be wrong with the building? Try the plumbing. The school was updated with water-conserving toilets a few years ago and it resulted in massive clogging every day. Our system was too old: We needed more water to flush than the new toilets provided. New filters were put on faucets to reduce water and it takes twice as long to rinse our hands of soap. And we can dry our hands with a hand blower, but we have only one in some bathrooms and two in another.

This brings up the number of stalls. There are two girls rooms upstairs. Each has six stalls. Yes, that's right--six. With five minutes between classes, 2 girls have time to use a stall. Multiply this number by six stalls, and it means only 15 girls have time to use the restroom between classes. And multiply this by three (since there is one restroom downstairs) and a total of 45 girls may use the restroom. This is ridiculous by anyone's standards.

Everyone worries about practice fields being used as a construction site, but what if they renovate the high school while students are in attendance? (Sports practice vs. classroom disruption due to construction? Not a difficult choice.) And, what if they find asbestos?

Have you ever lived close to housing construction? Really quiet, wasn't it? I'm sure students can learn in that atmosphere. And where do students go while a wing is being renovated?

I fail to understand why everyone is so opposed to building a new Stafford High School. I don't remember anyone raising these questions when we built Colonial Forge or Mountain View. I paid taxes to support the building of new Stafford County high schools elsewhere, but when it's someone else's turn to pay for my school, we can't afford it.

According to Supervisor Paul Milde, if we use our financial reserves to rebuild Stafford High School, how will the county build the sixth high school it needs? A sixth high school? Since when are the students at Stafford High of less value than those in the rest of the county? Surely we deserve as nice a building--one that will contribute to their education--as the Mountain View students.

If you don't want your child to attend Stafford High School instead of Colonial Forge or Mountain View, why not? If it's good enough for Stafford students, then it should be good enough for the other students.

Stafford County has been ranked seventh for counties of our size in median income--not just in Virginia, but nationwide. If we have a lower jobless rate and a median income that is so high, why can't we afford to build Stafford High School on the Clift Farm property?

Build the new school; convert Stafford to a Tech Center, and everyone is happy. The southern end of the county gets equality and the quality school it deserves.

Sue Gill teaches English and journalism at Stafford High School. She resides in the county.





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