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.”