LETTER: Building a New Juanita High School is the Best Option


Let’s put a stop to the ridiculous notion that Juanita High School is a functional building that can be updated or remodeled.  


The current Juanita High building is poorly-designed, dysfunctional, out-dated, and not safe!


Juanita High’s teachers have been incredibly resourceful and resilient in providing an excellent education to our children in a very limited environment.


But no amount of spirited effort can change the fact that this school building cannot now – or ever – support the diverse and technologically-based educational needs of today's high school students.


It is not worth the cost to make the huge modifications that would be needed to bring this building up to state standards for healthy, safe and high-performing high schools. The best, most cost-effective option is to build a new Juanita High School. Here’s why: 


First, common to schools of this age, contractors used building materials containing asbestos, lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to construct and equip Juanita High School.  Over the years, the district has removed or encapsulated the materials containing these hazardous substances. Still, the encapsulated materials that remain in the building continue to pose a risk to students and teachers if the material is damaged enough to release asbestos or other hazardous substances into the environment.  


Second, significant problems in Juanita’s building structure, main operating systems, and floor plan are linked to the both the building’s original 1971 design and the 1984-85 modifications.  These problems continue today:

1.            A Leaky Roof – Juanita’s roof is flat and leaks every year.  No amount of repair or retrofit has ever overcome the roof’s poor drainage system.  Water perennially pools on the roof and eventually finds its way down into Juanita’s classrooms, hallways, library, theater, gymnasium, locker room and offices.  Over the years, teachers have lost books and equipment to water damage.  Now this year, the custodian is not permitted to go on top of the roof to make repairs because it’s too dangerous!


2.            Lack of Windows – By state law, students are to spend at least 50 percent of their day exposed to daylight.  State daylighting-criteria for building new schools are even more demanding.  Only about a quarter of the classrooms in Juanita High School have windows.  Juanita’s old skylights are either covered or greatly diminished in their ability to project light.  The school relies on over 2000 fluorescent tube lights for its lighting. Many studies show that daylight is essential to students’ health and learning!


3.            Lack of Space – State school facility experts recommend 164 sq ft per student in high schools.  At 65 square feet (sq ft) per student, Juanita’s space allotment for its students is about 100 sq ft less than the recommended amount.  Students and teachers need adequate classroom space to avoid the mental stress of being over-crowded.  Teachers need enough space to arrange seating for various kinds of learning activities.   

 •             All students and teachers pay a price for the lack of space.  The greatest impact may be on students with medically fragile conditions or serious physical disabilities.  Not enough space exists in the resource rooms for cots or mat tables on which medically fragile students can lie down; sink facilities to sterilize hanging bags and feeding tubes; and wheel-chairs to maneuver freely. 


4.            Not Enough Bathrooms – State law requires schools to have, as a minimum, 1 toilet for every 30 girls.  Juanita has 1 toilet for every 43 girls!  The boys’ toilets are also scarce.  And only two toilets meet the accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


5.            Confusing Floor Plan with Too Many Exits & Entrances a Security Issue – An essential security procedure for today's high schools is a lockdown. The purpose of a lockdown is to quickly ensure all school staff, students and visitors are secured in rooms away from immediate danger.  The school has 40 exits & entrances located on all four sides of the building that are impossible to monitor on a continuous basis.  All the individual classrooms along the west and south walls each have their own door leading to the outside. Quickly being able to secure all 40 exterior doors during a lockdown is highly unlikely.


6.            Misalignment Between the Heating & Ventilation Systems and Classrooms – Although new heating and ventilation ducts were installed in 1985 - when the main building was subdivided into smaller classrooms - not all classrooms were properly fitted.  Further, the gas-powered boiler is too small to properly heat a building that has 18-foot tall ceilings.  As a result, some classrooms are still too cold in winter months and too hot in the warm months.  Teachers have reported extreme temperatures in their classrooms, one as low as 55oF and another as high as 85oF.  These temperatures are well outside the recommended range of 65oF to 79oF.


7.            Difficult to Lay Electrical Wiring – The school would clearly like to increase its technology capacity. But adding new hardware or wiring must contend with the fact that the school’s electrical wiring largely runs beneath the school’s thick concrete pad in a crawl space. The concrete pad is difficult to drill through. Many classrooms have excessive electrical wiring and cables running along floors and walls and an insufficient number of working electrical outlets.  Although the school has obtained the capacity for wireless networking, the system is problematic and doesn’t work in all areas of the building.


Existence of Hazardous Materials Adds to the Cost of Operations, Repair and Construction  

1.            By law, the school is required to conduct periodic surveillances of the asbestos containing materials and if any of the materials show signs of damage, then the school must repair or replace it.  Controlling asbestos is an ongoing cost of the school’s operations.  Demolition gets rid of these hazardous materials; renovation leaves some behind.

2.            Many of Juanita High’s operating systems are near asbestos-containing insulation and other hazardous materials.  Anytime these systems need repairs, the district is required, by law, to use special control procedures to avoid the release of toxic substances into the environment.  This is an expensive double whammy:  control hazards and repair systems. 

3.            Renovation requires students to be relocated to temporary facilities to protect them from exposure to hazardous substances and situations while the remodeling construction occurs. Relocation is costly and not necessary to the same extent when constructing a new school.  Most students can remain in the old one until the new one is completed. 


Voting for the Schools Prop 1 on the April 22nd ballot is a win-win situation.   The education and health of our students will improve in the new high school.  And, taxpayers’ will get more for their money and avoid having to pay excessive taxes in the future.

For more details and a list of my sources visit the “Build a New Juanita High School” at www.NewJHS.weebly.com   Please help pass the word and sign the petition to “Build a New Juanita High School” at http://www.change.org/petitions/build-a-new-juanita-high-school



Barbara Billinghurst