Along with most residents of the Inland Northwest, Freeman High School Principal Dave Smith has been grateful for the moderate winter of 2009-10.
After record-setting snowfall blanketed Spokane and the surrounding area for the past two years, the respite of milder conditions has meant keeping pace with a construction schedule that should have a new high school ready by August of this year. Less snow has also meant more convenient routes for staff and students who travel by foot from one portable classroom to the next as part of a campus in transition.
“We’re very fortunate we’ve had a light winter,” Smith said.
Groundbreaking for the upgrade took place in May 2009, a year after passage of a $19.5 million capital facilities bond to rebuild the high school and elementary school. State matching funds would add another $10.5 million to both projects.
Freeman School District Superintendent Sergio Hernandez said voter support was a key in addressing structural concerns at the high school dedicated in 1957. The list included aging heating and air conditioning systems, inadequate lighting and other infrastructure shortfalls.
“It was a tremendous effort from our community,” Hernandez said.
Progress on the site has not been without its hitches since last spring. A problem with the stability of the soil on the original footprint meant hauling out a considerable amount of the unstable foundation and replacing it with suitable rock, gravel and soil that could support the weight of the new two-story building.
Altogether, Hernandez said the adjustments have meant drawing $150,000 from a contingency fund that totals some $850,000.
Occasional bouts of cold weather have also meant delays in putting up brick walls after problems with freezing mortar.
Hernandez said there had been talk of having gym space ready to use in time for the winter sports schedule. Instead, the girls and boys basketball teams have been practicing and playing their home games at the Valley HUB. Attendance has averaged over 200 per game.
“We still get pretty good crowds,” Smith said.
By the time next basketball season rolls around, the Scotties will have a brand new gym on campus – the home court will seat 1,200 compared to the capacity in the previous arena of around 700. The old varsity gym, featuring new skylights and a refinished floor, will be utilized as a practice area and venue for junior varsity games while a smaller, secondary court will be converted to a space for shop classes.
Smith said the transition to portable buildings a month before the end of the 2008-09 school year gave students an indication of what some of the challenges would be like for this year. Some 90 percent of the high school classes are now situated in the temporary rooms on the main campus.
“I don’t think it’s negatively affected the learning environment,” Smith said. For the most part, the kids are doing great.”
The absence of lockers, enclosed hallways and a centralized gym have had an impact on the social atmosphere as students have fewer places to gather, Smith added. Lunchtime an pep assemblies are held in the middle school gym.
“It’s been tough on students in that regard, especially the seniors,” Smith said.
Hernandez sends out “one-minute updates” on a monthly basis, chronicling the progress of construction. The latest work involves the installation of steel girders in the roof of the new gym and framing in the academic wing.
Despite the delays, Hernandez said the project remains “on time and within budget.” Plans are to have the first phase of the campus ready to occupy by late spring. The entire high school is expected to be wrapped up by Aug. 19 with the renovation of the elementary school to begin around the same time.