MALTA — Construction progress at Raft River High School is about 60 percent complete and students and staff are settled into their temporary spaces while the remainder is finished.
Classes are being held in the new 30,000-square-feet addition to the school, while the 30,000-square-feet older portion was stripped down to the studs and will be rebuilt, said Debbie Critchfield, spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District.
“This whole thing will really be a new school,” Critchfield said.
The district is shooting for mid-October for completion, she said.
“The wind doesn’t blow through the walls anymore,” said Rhonda Chatterly, music teacher for grades k-12, as she taught an elementary class in the new music room at the high school on Tuesday. “There’s also wonderful storage and better acoustics.”
The music room was in one end of the old agricultural sciences shop and literally had plants growing through holes in the wall, Critchfield said.
Chatterly said being able to hear over the noise from the air conditioner and heating systems is also a plus.
Jess Goodwin, superintendent of the project for Starr Corporation, the construction company overseeing the projects in the district, said there are four classrooms in the rebuilt section of the school plus a home economics and science room and eight classrooms in the new section.
The school will also have offices, a reception area, conference and custodial rooms, storage areas, new bathrooms, two data rooms, a concession stand, new gym, weight room and locker rooms. The old gym will be used as a practice gym.
Critchfield said the school was plagued for years with problems in the water system, which spurred the district to install a new chlorination system.
“We haven’t had any bad tests since we installed that,” Critchfield said. All of the old plumbing system that the district suspected was trapping stale water has been abandoned.
But the school still uses water from the same well, and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality continues to monitor it for pathogens.
Randy Spaeth, a computer and graphic design teacher, said the former computer lab was very dark and the computers sat on tables. The room now has windows and study counters along the walls and a counter down the center.
“We used to have drop-down power,” Spaeth said. “Everything was redone down to the studs.”
The hallways were widened and common spaces with skylights for students were added near the entrance.
When the school is completed, seventh- and eighth-graders who have been housed at the elementary school will be moved into one wing at the school.
“Teachers and students have been more than flexible during this process,” Critchfield said. “Not only have they been flexible they have been downright cheerful.”
Although the new school will be completed this fall, like the other construction projects in the district there will be some needs at the school that the district can’t afford to address, like restrooms on the football field and refurbishing the old gym, Critchfield said.
The district passed a $36.95 million construction bond in March 2015 to build new schools in Burley, Declo and Raft River and complete other projects in the district, but soon discovered the architect hired by the district had sorely underestimated costs by $14.9 million. The district sought another construction bond for the difference in May 2016, which voters did not pass.
The costs for those same projects are now are $15.8 million, Critchfield said.
A patron’s committee has been established at the suggestion of John Evans Jr., who will head the committee, to tour the schools and make a list by the end of the year of what is still needed at each school.
And, she said, the district’s enrollment is up 146 students this year.
“All of the signs point toward more growth,” she said.
The district is also considering a new policy for construction bonds, which would prevent a shortage situation from occurring again, Critchfield said.
“We learned a hard lesson,” she said, “in a painful way.”
TWIN FALLS — Josie Coria has lived in the United States since her parents brought her here at age 2.
She wanted to be a doctor or a teacher. When President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2012 to let many undocumented immigrants who came here as children stay without fear of deportation, she saw it as the ticket to her dreams.
“When I heard about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), I was so happy because I could finally study and that was all I ever wanted,” she said.
She had just started college when she heard last week that President Donald Trump woud revoke DACA — “and my dreams were done,” she said.
Laura Prado’s parents brought her here when she was 7.
“The reality of being undocumented didn’t really start till I was a freshman in high school,” she said.
Thanks to DACA she was able to get a driver’s license and a job as a cashier at Walmart. She graduated as valedictorian of Jerome High School in 2016. She is now in her second year at the College of Southern Idaho, studying to be a pharmacist. Her grades got her scholarships. DACA let her work legally.
“DACA allowed me to be able to work at a pharmacy so I could get experience,” she said.
Coria and Prado are two of almost 3,200 Idahoans waiting to see whether the policy that for now is shielding them from deportation will remain.
About 200 people gathered in front of the Twin Falls County Courthouse Sept. 9 to show support for letting DACA recipients stay. For two hours they listened to speaker after speaker tell their stories on the courthouse steps.
DACA started just after Veronica Mojarra-Robles graduated from Burley High School in 2012. Wearing a white T-shirt with HERE TO STAY! written in black marker and carrying a handmade sign that said “My dreams are not illegal,” Mojarra-Robles said in Spanish that thanks to DACA she was able to achieve her goal of getting a job at a bank, and has moved up from teller to loan secretary.
“There are so many people like myself who have worked so hard and now we’re just going to lose it all,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Benjamin Reed, on-air personality at the Jerome Spanish-language radio station 99.1 La Perrona, emceed, leading the crowd in chants in both English and Spanish and translating for some of the speakers.
Trump announced recently he would end DACA in six months, while urging Congress to pass a permanent fix. DACA recipients won’t be deported before then, Trump said, but what will happen long-term is unknown. While most Democrats and many Republicans in Congress support letting them stay, some want to tie a bill to other issues. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, is among those who said it should be used as leverage for other Republican goals such as money for a border wall.
Reed called on Congress to pass a DACA-only bill.
“This could be done next week,” he said. “It’s not really something that has to be terribly involved. ... We don’t want the Dreamers to be used as a political football or a political pawn.”
DACA participants are often known as “Dreamers,” after the never-passed DREAM Act that would have established protections similar to Obama’s order.
The rally was organized by the Southern Idaho Progressive Coalition, Legislative District 25 Democrats (the district covers Jerome County and much of rural Twin Falls County) and J.U.M.P., or Jerome United — Making Progress. As well as the stories of DACA recipients, much of the rally was also about telling people to make their views heard by voting, contacting their lawmakers and running for office.
Liyah Babayan came to the United States as a refugee at age 10, her family having been forced from their homes in Azerbaijan due to a pogrom against ethnic Armenians that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. She is a U.S. citizen now, owns a business downtown and has been a member of the Twin Falls school board and various city commissions, but even still, she said, she sometimes has to deal with racist attacks, often being mistaken as Latino.
“Even now I am told to go back to my country,” she said. “And I’m told to go back to the wrong country because I’m told I’m supposed to go back to Mexico.”
Babayan is one of three candidates challenging now-Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins for her City Council seat. Babayan told the crowd to note who didn’t show up as well as who did, and to contact their elected officials.
“They know you’re powerless and they know you don’t have the information and they know they won’t hear from you — so prove them wrong,” Babayan said.
Roger Duffin of Murtaugh said he employs some DACA recipients at his business. He thinks the protesters need to make more noise.
“In the current situation in America, when you have a president that calls you rapists and killers, and you stand here and you’re being so nice, (saying) ‘I don’t think it’s about racism’ — bull——,” Duffin said.
“When you see someone with a Confederate flag driving down the road, you need to flip them off. ... It’s not going to get better, it’s getting worse,” he continued. “People are getting worse. They’re getting bolstered behind racism.”
Peter Rickards, a Twin Falls man who plans to run as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, called on his opponent to help pass a no-strings DACA renewal. Simpson said last week he wants to see a “realistic” legislative approach for DACA recipients in the context of larger reforms including increased border security, a guest worker program, and addressing the legal status of other undocumented people.
“This is about all of us, and the American dream includes all of you,” Rickards said.