LETTER: ‘Rats, Feces and Mold, oh my!’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The White Center Blog nor its staff:]

Rats, Feces and Mold, oh my!

If the Evergreen High School Campus was a restaurant instead of a school, health inspectors would have shut it down long ago.

However, less stringent health standards seem to apply for school kids.  Rats scurry around nighttime Evergreen halls and classrooms scarfing up crumbs.  Vermin droppings on floors and desks greet students many mornings in a school year.  The same furniture kids sit on, rest their hands on and maybe even support their heads.

The Evergreen Campus was built in 1959 and the Tyee Campus in 1962 during the Highline area’s period of rapid expansion.  Both schools were built with 30-year life spans to accommodate the great influx of students, and then new, more permanent high schools would be built at a later date.  The Highline School District has never wanted to invest major funds into the temporary schools other than to patch the facilities, never really resolving ongoing problems.

Fifty-six years later, annual winter rains fell, and water sat on flattish Evergreen roofs.  Iron pipes corroded, heating systems aged, ventilation fans quit, water snuck inside, and mold has flourished.  The school district has known for decades that mold at Evergreen has been a health problem and has sickened staff and students, a major reason an Evergreen rebuild has been in multiple bond conversations.

How can Evergreen students learn effectively when their immune systems battle all day while inhaling toxic air?  There are cases of Evergreen staff members who have had to take medical leave or were so sickened they had to quit because of poor environmental conditions.

At the Highline Schools Town Hall Meeting at Highline High School last Thursday, Superintendent Susan Enfield said, “We can’t create a bond to address all of our needs.”  Maybe, but surely we can address more of our needs.  Compare Highline’s schools building bond estimates with new school building costs in neighboring school districts:

  1. Highline High School is budgeted for $159 million
    Federal Way High School for 1,600 students is being built for $100 million
    Bellevue High School (with a performing arts center) completed in 2012 for $86 million
  2. New Highline middle schools budgeted for an average of $80 million each
    Mercer Island Middle School is being built for $49 million
    Chinook Middle School (Bellevue) being built for $57 million
    Odle Middle School (Bellevue) completed in 2014 in Bellevue (with geothermal heating and cooling, and solar panels) for $66 million
  3. Highline elementary school at Zenith budgeted for $51 million (no tear-down costs)
    Mercer Island Elementary being built $42 million
    Arbor Heights Elementary (Seattle) being built $42 million

Highline Schools Bond building cost estimates will be between $100-130 million more than school building costs in neighboring districts!

Yes, Highline High School has a historic brick wall, but preserving it cannot possibly cost taxpayers an additional $50 million.  The high school already has a performance arts center and a football stadium, so those expenses would not be calculated into new building estimates.  Why so much to build Highline schools?

Dr. Enfield said at the Town Hall Meeting that Evergreen is to receive $12.5 million if the bond passes to renovate bathrooms and update science labs.  However, two of Evergreen’s small schools have no science lab classrooms to renovate, and one small school has just several labs.  Two of the three Evergreen small schools occupy buildings that have not received any significant updates since the school was built.  They are like mid-twentieth century school time capsules.  The original 1950’s bathrooms are so worn, out one staff member told me she runs home at lunchtime rather than sit on school toilets.  Bathrooms renovations should definitely be priorities, but what about problems associated with failing infrastructure?

The Highline School District estimated almost $24 million would be needed to fix “critical repairs” based on an independent inspection at Evergreen, such as failing plumbing, HVAC and heating systems?  If passed, this bond would allocate only half of needed funds to address these critical repairs.  However, district leadership has chosen to not tackle failing infrastructure contributing to mold, water damage, insect infestation, and poor air quality.  School bonds may not address all needs, but not even trying to provide even adequate learning environments for half of our district’s high school students and staff until the next bond, whenever that may be, is unconscionable!

Mercer Island High School is currently getting an addition with 10 new science classrooms and 2 classroom renovations for $11.7 million.  Check out the plan!  Would it not make more fiscal sense to build new science facilities at Evergreen and Tyee that could be integrated into new schools down the road rather than pouring millions into old buildings that will be bulldozed?

Mount Rainier High School had their own vermin problem in the fall of the 2013-14 football season, when players were turning ankles stepping into mole holes on their practice field.  Dr. Enfield sprung into action, approved a $1.4 million artificial turf practice field within months of first signs of swelling ankles, and the field was finished before the first practice of the following football season!  Why is there no district leadership call to action when rats are running around and pooping inside Evergreen school buildings?

School student and staff health and safety should be paramount.  If approved, the Highline Schools Bond would not address critical facility needs nor substandard health issues at both Evergreen and Tyee High Schools.  Maybe when students begin tripping over rats will Highline leadership be moved to begin new school planning for Evergreen and Tyee.

– Sarah Dahl

[Have an opinion or concern you’d like to share with our Readers? Please send us your Letter to the Editor via email. Include your full name, please remain civil and, pending our review, we’ll consider publishing it.]

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