School bond focuses on ‘high priority needs’

May 1, 2015
Band director John Taranko leads the middle school band in the current band room.

Band director John Taranko leads the middle school band in the current band room.

See video here. 

Issue goes before voters Tuesday

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART — A high school that has had few renovations since it was built 53 years ago is the focus of a 2-mill bond issue set to go before Hart Public School voters Tuesday, May 5.

Making the campus better for “our kids, our community, our future” is the goal, said Superintendent Mark Platt, who described the high school’s out-dated 57-year-old boiler as a “train locomotive.” Replacing the school’s “highly inefficient” boiler is just one of the many improvements included in the renovation plans. “It’s eroding from the inside, out,” Platt said of the ancient boiler.

The high school boiler was built in 1961.

The high school boiler was built in 1961.

“The high school has been largely untouched since its inception (in 1962),” the superintendent said. Of the $15.8 million that would be generated by the 2 mills, $12 million will go toward high school renovations. Included in the plan is moving the high school’s main entrance, currently on the east side of the school, to the west side of the building by the gym. Having secure entryways throughout the campus is one of the components of the plan.

Another key issue to be addressed in the bond issue is renovating and expanding the high school band room. The successful band program under the leadership of long-time Director John Taranko has won numerous awards and continues to expand in participation, but the facilities the band students have to work in are in “horrible condition,” Platt said. The new design will offer much-improved acoustics for sound when the bands rehearse, as well as separate practice rooms for smaller groups to fine tune their skills.

The high school cafeteria, which is currently not up to fire code, will be expanded into a larger, separate area, Platt said. It is currently located at the end of the corridor on the school’s west side, and is much too small to comfortably accommodate students at meal times.

Classrooms will be expanded and furniture will be updated. The high school classrooms currently are cramped with “atrocious” furniture, the school leader said. “We will have 21st Century classrooms.”

_RSA4548hart_bond_002“One part of the bond that is pretty exciting if passed has not been talked about much is making our high school classrooms with 21st Century Learning capabilities,” Hart Board of Education President Jeff Gebhart said. “Our technology in Hart is first class. However, it’s one thing to have great technology, (and) it is another thing to use technology. We want to set our classrooms up that utilize what we have and create environments for teachers to use technology to reach kids to improve student learning. 21st Century Learning also means creating environments where it is easier for kids to gather in groups within a classroom to work together at their own levels.”

“We have good technology,” Platt said, “and that was demonstrated with the high school break-in.” Intruders broke into the high school, Dec. 26, and were identified later that day thanks to the school’s security cameras. Related story here

“Improving the academic environment” is the focus at the high school, Platt said. Another component of the plan is to utilize the space that was once the wood shop area. Right now, the former wood shop is just a “great big closet,” he said. That area will become a school store and serve as additional space for the nearby locker rooms and the weight room. Another big change the high school will see is having a “locker commons area” as opposed to having lockers along the hallway. By taking the lockers out of the congested hallway, there will be much more space for student traffic in between classes. It will be much easier for staff to supervise students in the locker commons area, too, Platt said.

Elementary students often have to work in hallways.

Elementary students often have to work in hallways.

In addition to the high school enhancements, school officials are also planning to improve Spitler Elementary School. The elementary school, which underwent major renovations approximately five years ago, is once again in need of more classrooms due to increasing enrollment. Right now, Title 1 instruction occurs in the hallway. Title 1 students are situated in small temporary cubicles in the Spitler hallways where unavoidable disruptions occur due to student traffic. Included in the plans at Spitler is constructing a staff room, Platt said. Currently, there is nowhere for staff to work collaboratively.

The high school track is in such terrible condition that it was recently condemned, the superintendent said, and the track teams could not host any home meets. It has since been patched, but it desperately needs to be resurfaced. Hart’s track teams have been experiencing a lot of success in recent years, and the program has been growing in participation. The bond issue proposes resurfacing the six-lane track, which totals $146,000. “There has been conversation to go with an eight-lane track,” Platt said, “but we’re not doing that.” Due to the nearby creek bed, expanding the track would pose environmental concerns and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) involvement, he said. Also, light poles and the press box would have to be moved in order to have an eight-lane oval.

Few improvements would be made at the 17-year-old middle school other than some roof work on the gym.

The option of building a new high school drew little community support due to cost, the school leader said. “Minimal cost would have been $25-$30 million.”

The district conducted a survey, and it overwhelmingly indicated that renovations would be supported. “We asked, ‘Do you want to build new; renovate; or do nothing?’ Our survey indicated 87 percent believed we needed to do something at the high school.”

The community has shown its support of the upcoming bond by forming a Facebook page called Hart Community Campaign and hosted several campaign meetings over the winter.

The average taxpayer will see a tax increase of $7.80 per month if the bond passes, based on the $87,000 average sales price of a home in the Hart area, the superintendent said.

The school leader stressed that it is critical that the bond issue passes. “Hart High School has not had any attention in 50 years,” he said.

“Most of the bond is focusing on such high priority needs,” said Gebhart. “It is like the ‘Safe, Warm, Dry’ bond. So it’s not as sexy as putting in a pool, turf football field or a $50 million new high school. It really is solving a lot of problems district-wide that are needed, while keeping costs down to a reasonable amount.

“Right now, our classrooms are not conducive to have kids working on the same subject but at different levels,” Gebhart continued. “Too often in education, we focus on one segment of student achievement. However, the goal is to improve student achievement of all levels. So, the high honors kids are getting challenged as much as the lower performing students. Kids at all levels would be learning at a challenging pace, so that they all see great gains in performance.

“At the end of the day, bricks and mortar do not improve student achievement — great teachers do,” the school board president said. “We will continue to ‘wow’ this community with what we can do whether this bond passes or not. However, if our structural and mechanical issues are not fixed, we have a major problem on our hands.”

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