Board feels push to decide on South Medford
MEDFORD — Though not much new information was revealed during a fact-finding meeting on costs tied to Medford school bond projects Tuesday night, one thing became immediately clear to the school board: A decision on whether to proceed with plans to build a new $82 million South Medford High School needs to be made within the next two weeks, according to School Board member Larry Nicholson.
"We need to drill down and make a decision on South Medford," Nicholson said at the end of the nearly four-hour meeting at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. "This will let us know where we stand on all the other projects we have to deal with."
The Medford School District has taken its share of heat for rising costs in its $189 million bond program. The project has ballooned $27 million over budget, forcing the school board to choose between closing two neighborhood elementary schools and building the new high school.
The board listened as officials from DCI Engineers and Mahlum Architects described the work they are doing and how they plan to keep costs as low as possible.
The board asked them questions submitted by residents with concerns over the 18-project bond. Several of the questions dealt with increasing costs associated with building the new South Medford High School.
One major reason for the escalating costs was the discovery of faulty bricks at Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools. Both schools were shuttered in June after it was determined the bricks would crumble during an earthquake.
During the meeting, Harry Jones of DCI Engineers, of Bellevue, Wash., described how the bricks were flawed from the "get-go."
"We've only recommended closing three buildings in 23 years," Jones said. "Normally, we recommend phase construction that doesn't take all the kids out of school. But in this case it didn't make any sense putting the kids in that position."
School Board Chair Mike Moran said the cost of refurbishing or rebuilding the elementary schools would drain a significant amount of the $189 million bond, leaving too little for a new high school.
Some in attendance were critical of the decision to bar public comment at the meeting.
Kurt Chapman, who has been critical of the bond since its inception, said the affair seemed too scripted.
"This is a dog-and-pony show," Chapman said. "They included work on Jackson and Roosevelt in the original bond because they knew it wouldn't pass otherwise. Now they've decided to throw them under the bus to build the new high school."
A Jackson teacher, who declined to give his name, agreed that the bond was an excuse to build the new high school, and the fate of the two elementary schools was irrelevant.
Moran agreed with Superintendent Phil Long, who said during the meeting that building the new South Medford High School was the primary reason they pushed for the bond.
"A high school is the flagship of your educational system," Moran said. "We need to get that in order before we can move ahead."
Long praised the board for its hard work this past year in the face of withering criticism from the public.
(See correction note below) "I think as painful as some of the criticism of this process has been, I think we are a stronger district for it," he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The original version of this story quoted Superintendent Phil Long incorrectly. This version has been corrected.