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Tour reveals JHS shortcomings

A tour on Tuesday led concerned citizens through the bowels of Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria - the boiler room.

The ancient workhorse pumped away as tour-goers stepped gingerly over the streams of water leaking from the giant boiler.

Then they braved biting wind chills as they exited the school to tour the "temporary" classrooms on the grounds, built in 1975.

They walked up a narrow ramp, trying to envision it packed with hundreds of students rushing to get to class.

The tour followed a presentation given by Terry Quist, School District 206 superintendent, and Chad Duwenhoegger, principal at JHS. It was the first of five forums open to the public to inform them of the challenges facing JHS and the specifics of building a new school - including design, cost and impact on taxpayers. (See related story on the school board meeting for specifics.)

The district is currently aiming for a referendum to be presented to voters in September. These meetings are designed to give people the information they need to make an informed decision.

After a referendum to build a new high school failed in 2003, the school board has spent the last few years putting together a more complete plan that includes a location and a conceptual design - issues that many voters were concerned about.

With those missing pieces now in place, the board is ready to get to work informing voters.

The meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday, March 1 and 2. Two more are scheduled for Friday, March 4 and Wednesday, March 9 from 5 to 6 p.m. at the JHS Media Center

At the first meeting Tuesday, only a dozen citizens attended. Quist recounted the struggles facing JHS, including cramped quarters, outdoor space issues, and deteriorating mechanical systems.

"When JHS opened, there were six activities for boys only," Quist said of just one aspect of the growing need for a new facility. "Now we have 29 activities for men and women. We have had to adjust."

Duwenhoegger noted that in recent months, repairs have become much more frequent - ceiling leaks, heating vent repairs, water in rooms, and electrical problems. He also noted that since the school was built, there have been several additions, and there is no more room now to grow.

Quist presented the specifications and the conceptual design of the school, which would be located at Pioneer Road and 50th Avenue. Prior to the tour, the audience was free to ask questions.

One guest expressed adamant opposition to the facility, firing a barrage of questions at Quist, who offered to meet with the gentleman one-to-one to address his concerns, including cost, school budgeting issues, transportation, staff, furnishings and maintenance.

With community support strong for an auditorium to be part of the school complex, a senior attendee strongly expressed his concern that it be given full consideration.

"We would like to have our piece of the pie," he said of those in his age group. "We urge you not to scale back the auditorium."

Both Duwenhoegger and Quist emphasized the positive impact a high school has on a community, not only its students, but those who can utilize and enjoy the opportunities it provides.

"There's something unique about a high school - the value to the community and the overall health of the community," Quist concluded. "We think the high school is a vibrant part of that. This is our last greatest need and we know that."