Tahlequah Daily Press

February 27, 2013

To fix the school

Briggs School officials say the poor condition of the infrastructure needs to be addressed, and they’re hoping patrons will pass a bond issue to fund improvements.

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — A rural community usually has a centralized building where most of the activity takes place, and very often, that building houses the school.  

For Briggs, the scenario is no different. The public K-8 dependent district is the hub for events and activities focusing on children, and school officials would like to improve its facilities through approval of a $1,855,000 bond Issue, said Principal George Ritzhaupt.

A vote on the bond issue is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, at regular polling precincts.

“We had a meeting last night [in the school’s cafeteria to discuss the bond issue], and then we’re going to have two community meetings later this week,” Ritzhaupt said Tuesday. “We’ll be back here in our library on Thursday, and then also over by John R Auction Barn [at the W.E.B. site], as well.”

The meeting at the W.E.B. site is slated for 6 p.m., while the one with the Briggs Community & Neighbors group is set for 7 p.m. in the school’s library.

Officials intend to use the bond money for construction of a new elementary school building, which would feature 11 classrooms, offices, a library/computer room and restrooms. A new regulation-size football field is also on the drawing board, using $25,000 from the bond issue.

The estimated cost of the project is $2,425, 000. The proposed bond issue monies would pay for about 75 percent of the total, with the remainder covered through the school’s building fund.

“In this day and age, with all the cuts and everything, we’re just not able to fund it. If we try to use our money in the building fund, by the time we get enough money saved up to build, the construction costs will have gone so high that we couldn’t catch up with that,” Ritzhaupt said. “That’s the reason this bond issue is so crucial and important for our kids.”

The impetus behind the bond issue is a section of the existing school building that houses first- through fourth-grade classes, or the south end – an area described as “over 100 years old.” Classrooms there are not sized to today’s  standards; exposed wiring can be seen in the hallway ceilings, and plumbing or gas pipes extend from the walls. Hallways to classrooms reveal uneven wood flooring and particle board walls, and the narrow bathrooms do not provide true handicap access.

“This is what the girls come into - they’ve got a high-voltage box right here [on the wall near the doorway into the bathroom],” said Ritzhaupt, indicating some of the problems. “This is something that’s not good to have, and then when you come into the bathroom, you can see that the doorway is not very big. My shoulders are touching. We can’t get a wheelchair in here. We have to take them to another restroom. We have a girl on a walker, and she has to turn sideways to come in here.”

Loss of water pressure is another problem in that part of the building. A student trying to drink from the water fountain may be thwarted if another student is using a sink or toilet in the restroom.

Though notice of Monday’s meeting was sent home with students last Friday and letters about the bond issue were also forwarded to Briggs residents, only a few parents or residents attended the public hearing, said Briggs Superintendent Steve Haynes.

“We didn’t have very many there. We probably had about 10 people, but you never know how those things are going to go,” he said. “They really went into a lot of detail: the financing of it, how it is going to work, what it is for.”

The millage rate for Briggs School is 17 percent, and the district has never passed a bond, or increased taxes, to cover such needs. Information presented at Monday’s meeting included the worst-case scenario, or highest estimated cost, to provide parents and citizens with as much information as possible.

“Even if this were to pass, we’re still lower [on taxes] than any other district,” said Haynes. “It’s hard to judge [what people are thinking]. I’ve heard it both ways, and we’ve got a couple other meetings later this week with some community groups out here. I think everybody agrees there’s a need and sees it, but again, it comes down to people and whether they [agree with the tax].”

Haynes said the school’s enrollment has decreased in recent years, and he believes the condition of facilities influences families when they decide where to enroll their children.

“If we can get this new facility, we can attract those students back,” he said. “[Consolidation] was talked about [at Monday’s meeting], because people are aware of the political climate in Oklahoma and what’s been thrown around a lot the past few years. I think people realize that [possibility]. Last night, it was a small group, and they were positive. They definitely want the school to survive.”