Facts, needs support a new Auburn High School | GUEST OP

By Krista Parsons
For the Auburn Reporter

In response to the Oct. 5 letter ("High school remodel is costly"), it distresses me to think that voters could be swayed by Richan Jenson's mistaken opinion and false statements about the bond.

Jenson admits to being "not familiar" with the facility. I attended Auburn High School for four years in the late '90s and have now been teaching there for the last 10 years. I am very familiar with it and have done extensive research about the proposed reconstruction, so allow me to debunk some myths from Jenson's letter:

Jenson says: You wouldn't tear down a house if it needed to be repaired so why rebuild the school?

Truth is: The repairs needed at the school are similar in cost to a complete reconstruction. Bids prove it. However, the reconstruction has already been approved for matching funds from the state, not available for a repair/remodel. If that were the case for a home, I'm sure Jenson would agree that rebuilding made sense.

Jenson says: The Auburn Performing Arts Center is "beautiful, state-of-the-art" and improvements are frivolous.

Truth is: Improvements are necessary for disabled access, among other things. Including the improvements in this bond rather than separately is more cost effective. Its otherwise good condition (in stark contrast to the rest of the school facility) and design are the reason it is being preserved, and the new school proposal will be built around it.

Jenson says: A rebuild cost of $458 a square foot is ridiculous

Truth is: Jenson's figure is a miscalculation. Reconstructing the 297,000-square-foot building will cost $77 million ($259 a square foot). A remodel would be a comparable $80 million.

The additional cost goes toward required changes to sewer, water, gas and curbing, as well as equipment and technology inside the new building and safety measures for the community, staff and students during construction.

Furthermore, reconstruction is already approved for $25 million in matching funds from the state. The school is commercial space, and for commercial space, it's quite reasonable, especially for one occupied by 2,000 people on a daily basis for up to 18 hours. It is 30-percent larger in student population than the other two comprehensive high schools, and the building is 70 years old.

An estimated 100,000 students have passed through the halls of the high school building, not to mention community groups who use it outside of regular school hours. This project cannot be compared to residential projects. They are "apples and oranges."

Jenson says: Taxes will go down if you vote no.

Truth is: That may be true but taxes will go up more later when the school has to be rebuilt at a higher construction cost. Taxes will remain level if this bond passes. Furthermore, home values will increase as a result of proximity to a nice school building.

Jenson says: You should suspect the district is asking for more than they really need.

Truth is: The school needs lots of things. To get those things, the most fiscally responsible option is to rebuild. Remodeling to accomplish the basic needed repairs (plumbing, roofing, heating system replacement and more — you wouldn't let these things go half as long at home as they've been stretched out at the school) have already quoted as costing just a bit more ($77M vs. $80M as stated above).

However, a remodel displaces students; a reconstruction can be done while students continue to learn in the old high school building. A remodel takes three years; reconstruction takes two. A remodel misses the chance to bring Auburn High School up to today's standards and specifications for an educational facility; a reconstruction does that for the same cost. A reconstructed building will meet security expectations of modern schools. A reconstructed building has a decades-longer life expectancy than a remodel.

Challenging conditions

Day to day at the school looks like this: I offer blankets to my students in the winter. When it rains, we pay money out for more garbage cans to catch the drips. I wear long johns under my dress pants to make it through winter days, expecting a boiler failure once a week or more.

Water-damaged school supplies must be replaced. Roof tiles fall in on teaching spaces when they get saturated by rainwater through leaking roofs.

In hotter weather, some areas are so hot that adhering to the student dress code is physically uncomfortable. A dozen "portables" have been in place for more than 20 years. Some classrooms are accessible by a single door and have no windows. Imagine the scene in the case of a fire.

Cracks in walls remind us that we really hope not to be at school when an earthquake hits. The conditions of the building at the school adversely affect my mission to educate and mentor Auburn's young adults on a daily basis.

Jenson's letter reveals a mentality of "if it doesn't benefit me right now, I won't support it." I shudder to imagine the world around me if everyone felt that way. A vote for this bond is a vote for a safe learning environment for the students who may soon be voting on issues that do affect you and me, but don't benefit them directly.

Reading this and another letter written by Jenson recently, I get the impression that Jenson likes to get a good deal. I do, too. This is bond is a good deal. It will not raise your taxes. And it will only get more expensive if we do it later.

The school must be replaced soon, either because we vote yes now, or because it gets so bad that 1,500 students and hundreds of staff are forced out for safety reasons. Leaving the school "as is" isn't really an option. Reconstruction now is a similar cost to remodeling with much greater return on investment. A new high school will raise the quality of the resources available to educate students and will last decades longer than a remodeled high school.

You choose how to vote, but please be informed when you do. Take advantage of tours offered by the district and the information shared about the proposal here: www.auburn.wednet.edu/domain/1292 and http://ahsproject.auburn.wednet.edu

Krista Parsons is a wife, mother of two, and lifelong Auburn resident. She graduated in 1999 from Auburn High School, where she now teaches sports medicine.


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