Tour Reveals Issues at PCMS

USD 250 staff await tour attendees at the Bond Information Fair and Tour Wednesday evening.  Photos by Rhonda White
Approximately 120 people attended the USD 250 Bond Information Fair and Tour at Pittsburg Community Middle School on the evening of January 6, 2016.  I was one of them.

As attendees gathered in the cafeteria, I picked up a brochure presented by the “Vote No” campaign, emphasizing the cost of the bond to property owners.

I checked in with our Crawford County Clerk, Don Pyle,  who was there to answer voting and registration questions. Visitors were then divided up into small groups of eight to ten people and were assigned a guide. We toured through rooms in the new section of the building, which was constructed in 2004 and includes three stories of classrooms, the cafeteria, and the library.  

We were then led into the familiar brown-tiled halls of the 1930s section, where we met with USD 250 staff.  Their insight and comments on facilities, programs, and class size were helpful;  they spoke of the good, the bad, the awkward–what works, what doesn’t work, and what they thought was needed to best serve students. They helped explain the need for updated telecommunication systems and the difficulty of retrofits.

The auditorium, which looked so grand in 1958, was scary with stage lights fused with knob and tube wiring. Winding through the three-dimensional  skinner box to enter and exit would be a nightmare for a disabled person or anyone needing to make an emergency exit.

Entering the oldest part of the building, our guide assessed our group’s  ability to take the stairs.  When asked how disabled students negotiated the halls she simply said, “We carry them.”  The gym had steep cement bleacher/steps with no handrails and no emergency exit.

The 1920s classrooms, quite adequate when built, were encased and pillared with thick cement walls resistant to Wifi signals.  Asbestos tiles were common, and the upper floors had no working restroom. In a room overlooking Broadway, at the base of a tower, we met with the design team of architects and construction people. They answered the many questions about preservation vs. demolition, cost/benefit, and square footage–highlighting the many hidden cost issues to bring the structure into current safety and usability standards.  For example, the floor is not level–an American’s with Disabilities Act requirement–and could not be leveled without changing doors, thresholds, and stairs.  They pointed out that though the existing structure had more square feet than the proposed one, many of those feet were unusable for students. Though smaller, the new plan would accommodate more students more effectively. They also stated they want to preserve all historical features possible by incorporating them into the new structure. We learned that the lack of detailed blueprints before passage of the bond is common due to the cost.

Winding down past the old high school office, we saw the lobby has become the athletic weight room, and the grand entrance is closed because the stairs are unsafe.  There, the Board of Education greeted us, listened to our questions and thoughtfully answered each one. We discussed class size, student population, growth trends, anticipated tax burdens and the need to provide all of our children a good education.

Groundwater seeps into the unused 1920s pool.
The descent into the locker room, pool, and boiler room was a trip back in time down narrow flights of stairs without handrails into a dungeon. The smaller gym area was the size of a racquetball court. The pool itself was a colossal sump, seeping in stagnant groundwater which has to be removed three or four times a year.  The l920s coal-fired boilers filled the boiler room with more modern HVAC equipment squeezed in around the edge. It was apparent that even with a complete to-the-studs gut job there would be an unusable concrete box to deal with.

Coal-fired boilers sit unused in the basement of PCMS.  
The next stop on the tour was a visit with the Visioning Committee. I was amazed to see the number of proposals, plans, and designs the community members had reviewed and revised to reach consensus. We learned more about the plans for the high school and elementaries and how multiple use areas made good use of construction dollars. It was evident that this committee had done their homework to come up with what they consider to be the best of all possible plans for students, teachers, and taxpayers.  BJ Harris, director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of the Visioning Committee, emphasized how the improvements to the schools would attract people and businesses to Pittsburg.

Finally, we returned to the cafeteria where staff was available for any additional questions we might have. My questions were all answered save one. Why have we not done this sooner?

by John Robb, Guest Contributor

John is a Pittsburg native.  He graduated from Pittsburg State University’s College High before earning his Bachelor and Master of Arts from PSU.  He continued his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago.  He is a retired school teacher and last taught history at PSU.

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