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JEFFERSON — Jefferson Middle School doesn't use its locker room showers anymore.

Partly that's a philosophic change; most P.E. classes no longer require a daily scrubdown. But even if they wanted to, they can't. Only two of the 16 showers still work.

With a central core marking its 65th birthday this year and no addition younger than 40, Jefferson Middle School is crumbling from above and below.

That's according to district educators who point out the corrosion and collapse of the original galvanized pipes and flat roofs that aggravate near-constant ceiling leaks.  

They say they're hoping voters will agree the repair bills have grown too large to be worth continuing, and that what's needed instead is a new middle school.

Voters will decide this May on a request for $14.375 million to build a middle school adjacent to the high school, construct an eight-classroom addition and gym at Jefferson Elementary School and make various repairs to Jefferson High School.

If the bond passes, Jefferson has been approved to receive $4 million in matching funds from the state, giving the district $18.375 million to spend on construction and repairs.

The 30-year bond will cost an estimated $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a home valued at $150,000, that's an extra $222 per year.

The current gym and cafeteria at the middle school likely will be kept for community use, Principal Dan Fritz said. A seismic grant is paying for a new roof over that structure to keep it viable.

However, he said, the rest of the middle school is just too far gone to be worth the investment.

"There's so much there, and anytime we try to do something, it's going to take away from the services we want to provide," he said. And you get more for your money if you build it new than if you try to rebuild." 

Take the roof, for example, he said. It's been patched numerous times, but it's still flat. Water collects and pools until it finds a new leak to trickle through.

"I don't use the back of my classroom as effectively as I could because there's a garbage can in it," said math teacher Tim Nichols.

Nichols said he also moved leaking tiles to keep ceiling damage to a minimum. "Because we can't afford to replace them," he explained.

When it rains, students say, a single hallway might have up to half a dozen garbage cans they have to snake their way around. Custodians leave mops in strategic places in the gym to soak up water running down the walls.

The building needs plenty of work in other ways, just for efficiency and comfort, Fritz said. Student restrooms don't have fans, for instance, because they predate the codes that require an exhaust system. Windows in the cafeteria are single-pane glass, which causes spikes in temperature. 

But repairs and upgrades cost, and something has to give, Fritz said. "We're not going to do a math textbook adoption this year because we're spending money on everything else."

Parent Cheryl Lekkerkerker said the district's physical condition was a major part of her decision to withdraw her two young children from Jefferson schools three years ago. The family still lives in Jefferson, she said, and every year she thinks about bringing them back, but so far, conditions haven't improved enough.

"Because they're having to allocate funds to keep repairs up in the building, you feel it in other areas," she said, citing a desire to see more library staffing and better fencing at the elementary school as examples. “We're in jeopardy, I think, of losing our district or sending our kids to a very unsafe place to be schooled."

Voters have turned down bond requests in Jefferson twice in recent years. This third request is down more than $2 million from the previous bond measure, which voters narrowly defeated last November. Changes to square footage and to the remodel plans at the elementary school lowered costs.

Melissa Wagner, who has sons in elementary and middle school, transferred them to a different district the first time the bond failed. The family still lives in Jefferson and continues to vote for bond measures even though their children are no longer affected, she said.

"The staff there at Jefferson are really good, but it was just very sad. I’m a registered nurse and I thought there were some major health concerns," she said. "Even though our kids aren’t going there, I want the best for the kids in Jefferson.”

Many families won't choose to come to a town if they don't feel the schools are adequate, Wagner said.

"I feel a lot of people in town don’t understand a school makes a town," she said. “I don’t know how the town is going to improve without starting somewhere."


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