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Supporters of a new South High speak up

Five parents and a teacher spoke out Tuesday in favor of constructing a new South Medford High School at the intersection of Columbus and Cunningham avenues in the ongoing debate over what projects should be cut to balance the school district's $189 million bond budget.

The speakers said they came forward at the school board meeting Tuesday after reading a quote from School Board member Larry Nicholson in a Nov. 7 Mail Tribune article. Nicholson said he was puzzled that supporters of the South Medford project had been silent about a proposal to scrap construction of the new school as a way to balance the bond budget.

"I think I should tell you that we are not apathetic at all about the South Medford project," said Geni Hilton, a 17-year chemistry teacher at South Medford.

Hilton said the existing school on South Oakdale is not properly equipped for lab experiments, and a new building would provide modern classrooms to better prepare students for college science courses. Frequent gas leaks in the building prohibit some experiments because they could cause explosions. The science rooms also lack fume hoods and central storage for the equipment science teachers have to share, Hilton said.

The school board has considered scrapping the $82 million high school project or closing Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools as possible options for balancing the bond budget.

Jackson and Roosevelt were slated for renovations in the bond package approved in November 2006, but costs more than doubled because of structural deficiences found at the schools last June. Both schools were shuttered after the defects were discovered, and their pupils were dispersed between four campuses until the school board decides what to do with the school buildings.

Expenses also have gone up for the South Medford new construction project, but district officials attribute those to an upswing in the construction market.

"We own the land to build a high school," said Medford Deputy Chief of Police Tim George, father of a South Medford senior. "It's not going to be any cheaper. We can design the school so we can add on later. A new South is going to impact the most students."

The school board is not expected to make a decision on the projects until December.

A fact-finding meeting on why costs have escalated on the projects is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Abe Lincoln Elementary School, 3101 McLoughlin Drive. Architects, engineers, project managers and district staff will be present to answer board members' questions about the projects.

The public may submit questions about the projects at www.medford.k12.or.us.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.