When Fairview High School students returned to school earlier this month, they found a building that is looking better than it has in many years. And with voter approval of a 3 percent utility tax in February, students and residents of the small independent district in the unincorporated community of Westwood can expect more improvements to the high school and other district facilities in the near future.
The improvements are long overdue. Not only have they improved the appearance of the high school, but they will save the school district thousands of dollars a year in energy costs. In fact, a case could be made that the new windows at the high school will pay for themselves in a short period simply by reducing the cost of heating and cooling the school.
Work is 95 percent complete on a $3 million high school renovation project that began in December before the approval of the utility tax. The work includes new energy-efficient, weather-tight windows, new heating and air conditioning, fresh paint in hallways and cafeteria and new floor tiles in halls, cafeteria and library.
The cafeteria and kitchen are air conditioned for the first time, making lunchtime more comfortable for students, Fairview High Principal Garry McPeek said. There was enough money in the budget for new cafeteria tables.
The new air conditioning system eliminated noisy window units throughout the building, McPeek added. Teachers often had to turn the air conditioners off to hear and be heard in the classroom.
Until recently, the Fairview High School English and speech teacher Jim Maggard considered duct tape and plastic ties as necessary to close his classroom windows because the aging frames were loose and wouldn’t seal. Mopping up puddles where rain forced its way through was a commonplace chore.
Not only is the new heating system significantly more efficient, it warms the building more evenly, McPeek said. Using the previous system sometimes forced him to use his office air conditioner during the cold months to ensure sufficient heat at the other end of the building.
As with nearly all school renovation projects, students, treachers and administrators had to endure some inconveniences while the work was taking place. Some classes met in the Renfroe building across the street, and when the 2012-13 school year ended in May, only about five classrooms remained open in the main building. Other classes met in the library and multipurpose rooms.
School board members have said they will use money from the new utility tax to fund further improvements at the high school, including the addition of middle-school classrooms and a stage for the gymnasium.
Gaining approval of the tax was not easy. District voters rather soundly defeated the ax at least three times before surprising many by voting for the tax in February. The perseverance of the school board is factor in that. Previously, Fairview board members kept approving the utility tax and Fairview district residents kept successfully petitioning to put the levy on the ballot.
That’s what the school board members and residents of the district did earlier this year, but th is time voters approved the tax. In so doing they were investing in the future of the small school district and the students who go there. We predict it will turn out to be one of the wisest investments they ever made.