Parents voice concerns over high school redesigns in Idaho Falls

Roughly 50 parents and patrons of the Idaho Falls School District gathered at the Willard Arts Center Wednesday to provide input – and voice concerns – about concepts for updating Skyline and Idaho Falls high schools.

Concepts for the so-called “High School ReDesign Project” included prints of a new auditorium at Skyline and a multi-level gymnasium at Idaho Falls. More welcoming and modern architecture could also be incorporated into the buildings, as well as more “hangout” and technology space.

Those in attendance were encouraged to submit comments on note cards and gain clarification from district administrators and teachers, who have been working with designers at Hummel Architects of Boise to develop the concepts.

Opinions about the approach to improving the high schools varied.

Parent Allison Chambers voiced concerns about the city-owned Civic Auditorium, which is attached to Idaho Falls High School’s north side.

“Idaho Falls High School needs an auditorium, too – people think the auditorium is the school’s, but it’s not,” Chambers said, adding that the city charges the Idaho Falls School District to use the facility.

She also pointed to Idaho Falls High’s practice football field next to Ravsten Stadium, which the city uses to retain water during heavy rains.

“Sometimes that field is full of water during football season,” she said. “The school doesn’t charge the city for the retention field, so why should they charge the school for the auditorium?”

Schools in the district are charged a “non-profit” rate of $175 for using the Civic Auditorium, according to the City of Idaho Falls Pubic Information Officer Kerry McCullough. The schools are also required to pay for needed technicians during events.

Idaho Falls High School utilized the auditorium seven times last year; Skyline, once. The schools have rented the auditorium a combined total of four times this year.

Idaho Falls School District Community Engagement Coordinator Margaret Wimborne said Wednesday’s meeting was held to draw out concerns similar to those brought up by Chambers – including calls to rebuild the schools altogether.

“This is the start of a very long process – right now we are just making sure we know what’s best for our students,” said Wimborne.

Richard Nathan and his son Jacob, an incoming freshman at Skyline, said chess tournaments require them to travel to high schools throughout the country.

“My biggest concern is that the district doesn’t do enough – doesn’t spend enough,” he said. “These high schools simply aren’t as nice as those in other states.”

Parent Barb Beller said she likes the idea of a modern and fluid learning atmosphere that the proposed changes would bring to Skyline, which include “common” learning areas where teachers of different subjects can combine classes and instruction.

“I think it will bring kids together to improve their tech and communication skills,” she said. “That’s a major problem in the workplace today – people might know their field well, but they often have trouble communicating their ideas in the workplace.”

Parent Lisa Baker is glad “something” is being done to upgrade the schools but also questioned whether the district is doing enough. The city of Idaho Falls, she said, should also do more to contribute to better schools in District 91.

“Schools need to have nice facilities to draw people in – not just to the district, but into the community,” she said.

Idaho Falls Superintendent George Boland has not provided estimated costs for the improvements to the high schools. Upgrades to Westside, Fox Hole and Sunnyside elementary schools are also part of the project and will run from $800,000 to $1 million each.

In addition to instructional improvements, some of the proposed changes are aimed at better compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some of the physical education facilities are downstairs, presenting problems for some students.

A series of PowerPoint slides on the district’s website provide areal views of the schools, as well as currently proposed interior and exterior upgrades.

The district hopes to have a finalized plan for the project by late summer 2016.