Credit to Rebekah Myers
2. Physical State of FHN Building Has District Looking at Options
First established as Henderson Junior High, then expanded and renamed FHN in 1986, the building has struggled to keep up with the growing St. Charles and St. Peters population. Now it’s age is showing with the necessary and constant upkeep. With the building fully matured, and practically outgrown, intentions for the construction of a new building are beginning to take root.
“FHN is very likely of the highest need,” said Head Principal Nathan Hostetler. “We have roofs that are leaky, we have HVAC issues, the building is old, it is what it is. There is some significant discussion about potentially taking on the task of building a new building if the bond issue were to pass. We’re doing our best to dress up this building, but the truth of the matter is: it’s not new, it’s an aging building, a lot of different ages, sort of a Frankenstein’s monster.”
One of the most outstanding issues is the uneven roofing according to Hostetler. Noticeable leaks complimented with trash cans to collect excess water are common in the southern end of the Butterfly Hall and around the front entrance, despite the roof being less than a year old. Those areas are scheduled to be patched up in the summer of 2019. The HVAC(Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system has the biggest need for an upgrade. It utilizes a boiling system that’s just over 40 years old. It’s frequent repairs require outdated hardware and sparse expertise. Though these efforts are only to extend the school’s life on its last legs.
“It’s hard to find parts for them,” resident Head of Maintenance Stan Robertson said. “We have a boiler system here, which is heating the building and cooling the building by water. They don’t do that a lot anymore, that’s a dying breed there. You have just a few older guys that can still do that. To change that, you would have to remap and redo this whole building, get rid of the boiler, ductwork would have to go everywhere. It would be almost impossible.”
The crucial changes needed to conserve the building would require extensive renovations, which is especially difficult due to obstacles like the already existing firewalls and at least six other additions from previous attempts at expanding the school. It’s estimated by Robertson that the structure will only last about five to 10 years without dramatic and unlikely changes.
“It would actually be cheaper to build a new building, with all the stuff we’re doing now, like keeping the building up with repairs, but in the long run it would be cheaper,” Robertson said. “The more money we put in this building, it gets more expensive because it’s older. They could start a new building, and I think they would see a big difference. The money they would spend on this one versus a new one would pay for itself.”
The critical linchpin in determining a new school is the district’s Master Plan. A procedure which would evaluate current issues and decide whether or not construction is a better alternative to perpetual repairs. The completion of the plan is expected within the next couple months.
“We are working with an outside provider to complete a Master Plan to look at all the facilities all across the district, somebody with expertise in building structures and systems.” Superintendent of the district Mary Hendricks Harris said. “They will identify the projects that need to be done and help us prioritize those.”
Funding is a major obstacle in getting this plan off the ground. The main source of this would be a bond issued by the county to subsidize capital projects. The bond size is estimated by The Master Plan, then the board would be able to put it on the ballot. After, the public would have to approve it. There would be no added expense to taxpayers, their bonds would only be paid back slower.
“We would have to pass a no tax increase bond issue to make that happen,” Hostetler said. “I believe that would be a possibility in two to three years. We haven’t passed out last three tax levies which is why our operating funds aren’t where we’d like them to be, but a bond issue is different. If we were to pass one, then there wouldn’t be any increase in taxes.”
Going forward efforts are looking to improve the quality of education for students district wide, and making the most of the future.
“We want to have safe and equitable buildings that address the needs of today’s learning.” Chief Operating Officer Kevin Supple said. “If we were constructing from the ground up, I’m sure there would be major differences because we would have a blank slate, we would be able to think about what education is like in the next 10, 15 years and build towards that.”