Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-day series about the Corvallis School District's proposal on the May 15 ballot for a $199.9 million facilities replacement and improvement bond. On Sunday, the newspaper featured an overview of the proposal and a tour of Hoover School, one of the buildings that would be replaced if the bond passes. Today, we tour Lincoln Elementary School, the other building that would be replaced.
Lincoln Elementary School was originally built in 1949. It got an addition in 1950. And another in 1953, and a third 1978 and a fourth in 1981. Oh, and in 1968 it was damaged in a fire and reconstructed.
Through nearly seven decades of reconfigurations the school, which sits along Highway 99 West in south Corvallis, has acquired a few quirks, such as classrooms that can only be accessed from the outside or by walking through two other classrooms and a main entrance that is exactly 358 feet, more than the length of a football field, from the nearest disabled space in its parking lot (that space, is the closest one to the entrance).
Lincoln, along with Hoover Elementary School, would be torn down and replaced with a new building on its current site if a $200 million facilities bond is approved by voters in the Corvallis School District in the May 15 election. While the district’s Facilities Planning Committee added a replacement building for Hoover to the bond plan late in 2017, after nearly a year of meetings, replacing Lincoln was in the committee’s plan for the bond, which includes safety upgrades and repairs at all district schools, from nearly the very beginning.
In late March, district and school staff took the Gazette-Times on a tour of Lincoln to show why the school always has been at the top of the list for replacement, which is forecast to cost $37 million.
The tour started at the school’s main office.
Kim Patten, the district’s director of facilities and transportation, pointed out that the counselor’s office doesn’t have a hallway or common area connected to it — the only way to get in is to through Principal Aaron Hale’s office or the office of another school staffer on the other side of the room.
“There’s been so much remodeling over the years to make things work that there’s not really a lot of flow,” Patten said.
Julie Wilborn, the school’s office manager, said that space is so limited at Lincoln that she sometimes has to schedule for visiting counselors or speech language pathologists to have their meetings with students in Hale’s office.
“The schedule is so tight that there are times I have it scheduled so the principal has to be out of his office,” she said.
Wilborn added that the school’s office is off to the side of the main entrance, which means office staff have to be constantly on alert for people bypassing it without checking in. Newer schools often have main entrances that go directly into the office so people have no choice but to check in.
On the way to the school’s primary grades wing, Wilborn pointed out that the back doors of the school are the closest to its parking lot, which means many parents try to enter through the door, which is locked for anyone without an electronic key card during the day.
Wilborn also pointed out that a staff bathroom has to double as a bathroom for students with special needs, which means in their short breaks when students are at recess teachers often have to spend most of their time walking around the school trying to find a vacant staff bathroom.
It’s the primary grade wing where the various additions over the years really show: the school’s wood panel walls give way to drywall at a door junction. In this portion of the school, four classrooms can only be reached by passing through other classrooms or walking outside.
The Gazette-Times’ visit occurred as second grade teacher Rosie Crisóstomo was packing up to leave her room after the last school day before spring break.
Crisóstomo said when students need to go to the bathroom they either have to cut through other classes, potentially disrupting the classes, or walk outside, which requires she give them an electronic key card to get back into the school — and given that her students are second-graders, the key can often get lost. She added that each transition during the day (to lunch, art, etc.) she has to plan to leave with her students about six minutes before they need to be in the next room. The cumulative effect is lost time teaching.
“You waste instructional time just moving bodies all over the place,” said Crisóstomo.
Some of the rooms in the wing have as many as five doors, leading to and from multiple other classrooms and going outside. Crisóstomo said this has another effect — lost wall space for putting up educational material. Since doors need to be kept clear, a lot of space in the rooms can’t be used either.
“Any time we need to do a lockdown we need to check so many doors,” she added.
Crisóstomo, who has taught at the school 14 years, said the school has other issues common to an older building: lack of air conditioning in warmer months, windows that won’t open and a lack of natural light. One of her former classrooms had problems with rodents. She said she is excited by the prospect of a potential new school.
“(In) South Corvallis we have more kids with struggles and they deserve a school that shows them they are worth it. … It’s a statement to those kids and families that they are worth a school that’s nice and beautiful,” she said.
The G-T’s tour continued with stops at two modular classroom buildings. Patten said the oldest of the modulars was placed in 1988 and that the buildings are only meant to last about two decades.
Wilborn said earlier this year Head Start preschool classes in one of the modulars had to be canceled for a time when an aging heater failed.
The air in the modular smelled slightly stagnant.
“We tend to have higher in CO2 levels in here,” Patten said. “We have to encourage them to keep windows open with a full class in here because of poor (air) circulation.”
As the group tried to pass through an internal door to the music room making up the other half of a modular it was hindered slightly by some drums that partially blocked the door.
Patten said for fire safety reasons, doors are supposed to be kept clear.
“We’ve got things stored behind doors because there isn’t space for them,” she said.
As the tour left the modular it passed within sight of the school’s bus loop, which Wilborn said is too small for all the buses coming to the school. The problem is made worse, she said, by the fact that Lincoln is full dual Spanish and English immersion and the district has to send an extra bus to Adams Elementary School with students who live in Lincoln’s boundary but need to attend a fully English speaking school.
“The congestion is intense in the mornings,” she said.
One of the samples presented to the district’s facilities committee showed that a new school could be built on what is currently Lincoln’s field with enough space for a through road between Southeast Alexander, along the school’s north side, and Southeast Viewmont Avenue, which would have space for bus drop-offs.
Moving back into the main building, Wilborn pointed out a classroom doorway that was built with an odd "T” junction.
Just that morning, she said, they had a 911 call in the classroom. The first responders couldn’t fit their stretcher through the doorway and had to go around to an exterior door.
Along the way through the hallways, Wilborn pointed out places where the roof has leaked — a few water-stained ceiling tiles or spots where tiles are gone entirely mark some of the locations of past leaks.
Patten noted that one of the school’s main bathrooms, near the combined gym and cafeteria, which also hosts after-school programs, has a partially collapsed sewer line that has been difficult to repair because it runs under the blacktop in the schoolyard. The toilets still function, but student use at some times during the day must be limited, Patten said.
Patten pointed to the end of a hallway, where a bench, bookcases and a scissors lift were being stored.
Wilborn added that there is a lack of storage in the school in general. Often the school’s PE equipment, which can’t be secured in a closest, is left out where outside groups that use the gym can get to it, so it sometimes gets lost or damaged by the groups.
The school’s gym and cafeteria also creates time pressures for staff, Wilborn said, since they have to quickly move kids through lunch so classes can resume in the gym.
The gym sits right next to the sidewalk along Highway 99 West, and a door leads right next to the highway, which Patten said is a safety issue. The door can't be locked from the inside for safety reasons, she said.
“Kids run,” added Amy Lesan, the district’s elementary schools coordinator, who was also on the tour.
Patten said kids have gotten outside the fence along the highway next to the school before staff could catch them, but never into traffic.
“When we look at rebuilding this school, we will build it as far from (the highway) as we can,” she said. Patten said the idea is to build the new school on the back side of the lot, which is currently a field, and keep kids in the current building until the new one was complete.
As the tour was wrapping up, Wilborn said all of the issues with the building have an effect on student and family morale.
“For the students, the biggest thing is disruption in a calm environment,” she said.
For staff, it means stress.
“We’re all creative and we work hard to make things function, but it would be nice if (staff) could use their creative energy for teaching and creating a welcoming place for teachers and families,” she said.