San Benito High School District board members held a special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 24 to discuss school construction priorities using Measure U bond funds.
Approved by voters in November 2016, the $60 million bond is designated to help fund major improvements to San Benito High School including upgrades to science classrooms and labs, repairs to old plumbing and outdated electrical systems, improvements to school access for students with disabilities, additional classrooms to address overcrowding and continued growth, and the removal of asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous materials throughout campus buildings.
Joe Vela of Aedis Architecs gave a presentation on the state of past and current projects funded by Measure G and what plans are for projects using funds from Measure U. Projects include a new science building, classrooms for student growth, SPED (special education) expansion, ASB/student union building, track and field upgrades, a football complex, an Aquatic complex and a performing arts building.
Trustees, who had moved the meeting location from the school library to the auditorium to accommodate crowds, had to also limit the time for attendees to speak during public comment. Approximately 25 teachers, staff, students and community members voiced their opinion on where they thought the funds would best be spent.
Katherine Foster, president of the San Benito High School Teachers’ Association, spoke first, saying there was a consensus among the science department to not do the planned modernization in the 240’s or 250’s classroom buildings.
“We’d really like you to come to the building to show you why we don’t think it’s necessary and why it should be put off until some of the other projects are done,” she said. “It’s functioning well at this point. We’re updated with the technology…none of us think that money should be spent to do anything to those classrooms.”
Vela addressed Foster’s comments saying there were a few code compliance issues that needed to be fixed in the science buildings and the modernization of those buildings would tackle those problems.
Teacher and FFA advisor, Myndi Krafft said she hoped the trustees would provide a small piece of land “for an outdoor learning laboratory to help facilitate hands-on learning and community involvement.”
English teachers Patrick Schleeter and Dr. Tom Rooth said they would like to see the English department staff lounge returned after it was reassigned to the special education department. Schleeter said that as a result, English teachers have limited access to bathrooms and that he sees “division camaraderie at an all time low.”
“I attribute this to a lack of staff commons where staff can bond, socialize, eat, collaborate etc.,” he added.
Athletics was also a big topic during public comment, with teachers, coaches and staff lamenting the current condition of the football and practice fields as well as track and field facilities.
Wendy Noble, a parent of two students at SBHS, said the current conditions of the disk field was in “poor shape. I know many students who have twisted their ankles and so forth out there,” she said.
SBHS athletic trainer Danielle Cote spoke about safety concerns regarding the football stadium and athletic fields. She said the current area of concern is a spot on the football and track and field where students fall.
“There have been some injuries but we have been very lucky in this area so far,” she said. “In addition to that, there are some holes in the fields, because it is real grass, so I have seen a number of ankle sprains. Minor injuries right now but it’s just a matter of time when’s there’s something more serious.”
P.E. teacher Leanna Morgan, who also coaches cross country and track and field, said one of the most important things when it came to the athletic fields is the school’s liability and safety. She shared that while she was teaching class, she stepped in a hole and tore her meniscus, leaving her not being able to work.
SBHS Athletic Director Tod Thatcher said he did a survey in which track and field and the stadium came back as the top priority for renovations among head coaches. “There are five areas for me where the stadium becomes the number one priority for our athletic department. Those areas are usage, safety, ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance, cost of maintenance, increase of practice,” he said.
The lack of a pool for students and the community was also brought up during public comment with students and community members speaking out.
Dawson Garcia, a student at SBHS, said he sees people drive from Hollister to Morgan Hill to use a pool during the summer and thinks “it’s time the high school actually gives back to the community.”
Ceily Hepner, a junior at SBHS, said she was fortunate enough to play with the boys’ water polo team this year after the girls team was cut due to the lack of interest and a facility to train. She added that she travels to Santa Clara to train and grow as a player.
Ryan Hepner, an incoming freshmen and avid swimmer said, “I believe this community is really missing out on having a facility that teaches life skills as it relates to water safety. I personally believe a new swim center will provide benefits for more than just San Benito High School students.”
San Benito Aquatics Coach Judd Schutts said a 50-meter pool for both competitive swimming and water polo is recommended. “As far as the community goes, we’ve been talking with the city and the county. They are 100 percent in agreement that an aquatic center would… be an attraction to the community, bringing in tourists. They also agreed to commit money as well as time and effort to the aquatic facility,” he continued. “Run by a nonprofit organization, it’ll be profit generating. The maintenance and ongoing facility cost would be for and by a nonprofit an would not cost the school district any money after it’s built.”
After much discussion, the board decided to prioritize all the projects with the exception of the performing arts building, the aquatic complex, the repair of the P.E and softball fields and am aquatic center, which will instead be replaced by a 50-meter pool.
Trustee Steve Delay said that while those projects are no longer a priority, they have moved down the list and will be revisited in the future.
Aedis Architects will be looking into the cost of including a special education facility in construction plans so the classrooms the department now uses can be converted back to a staff lounge for the English Department.
Trustees will also look at how much money will be saved by not modernizing the science classrooms so that funding can be re-allocated.
Additionally, the board will check into the cost of phasing out the cafeteria in the proposed Associated Student Body (ASB)/student union building after it was brought up by Trustee Juan Robledo that the kitchen was not needed at the moment and he would rather see the money used elsewhere.
Interim Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum said the meeting “was extremely well attended and staff members from various departments spoke eloquently and passionately about the needs of our district. It was not only inspiring, but also uplifting to hear and feel the Baler spirit in action. Our board began to define the next steps for construction and facility development for today and the future of our district.”
Tennenbaum said he will provide a “detailed update” on bond priorities soon, as the district continues to “develop and refine a comprehensive list.”