Renovating a high school while 230 students are present can be challenging, River Principal Ed Tiffonoff acknowledged, but he believes it will be worth the effort.
Part of an $86 million district-wide construction project, the renovation of River High School is under way even while classes are taking place. And while some in the Switzerland of Ohio community have expressed concern about air quality and temperatures in classrooms there, Tiffonoff and other administrators said those issues are being monitored and addressed.
Some reports have indicated students were forced to wear coats or wrap themselves in blankets to stay warm during class. On Thursday, when temperatures outside hovered in the 40s, most students were wearing ordinary school attire, such as jeans and hooded sweat shirts. And while some hallways and other areas were cool, others parts of the building were quite warm and average classroom temperatures were in the 60s.
River High School band director Tom Myers directs students in a rehearsal this week in a partly remodeled band room while using a portable electric heater to make the room comfortable. (Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough)
"Voters in 2009 approved a master plan that called for new construction and remodeling at River High School with the students in place," said Switzerland of Ohio Superintendent Larry Elliott. Voters approved a $33 million levy, while the Ohio School Facilities Commission contributed $53 million. "We are trying to abide by the wishes of the voters and the master plan."
Elliott noted, however, that administrators have a contingency plan to move students to the former Monroe Central High School modular buildings on the campus of the Swiss Hills Career Center if school board members decide conditions at River are unsatisfactory. Because the heating and cooling contractor has had difficulty getting new equipment delivered, Elliott said, electric heaters are being used in classrooms.
Tiffonoff said students are wearing "typical attire for winter" and that he has heard few complaints. He also commended teachers for adapting to conditions when they are moved from their regular classrooms to allow work to take place there. He cited industrial arts teacher Matt Swank as an example, saying Swank has come up with "creative and innovative" lessons in a room that does not feature the machines he is accustomed to using.
Support Services Director Marc Ring said temperature issues are occurring mainly in areas that are in close proximity to work areas. Although students are not permitted to be in areas where construction is taking place, he said nearby parts of the building can be drafty because construction crews have exterior doors open much of the time. He also noted workers have not finished installing insulation and new windows.
Elliott also refuted a rumor regarding how the home economics room was being heated.
"We do not heat our rooms with ovens," he said.
Regarding air quality, officials said the main concern is dust. It is created when crews use saws and drills and when equipment is moved outdoors in unpaved areas-a problem associated with construction of a new, adjacent Sardis/Hannibal elementary school. But Elliott said parents do have options.
"If a parent is concerned for their child, they can opt to attend Monroe Central or Beallsville high school," he said. "Or, if a doctor recommends it, we will get them a tutor for their home."
He also noted the district is working with the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, which is monitoring air quality in the building.
"We don't anticipate any problems," he added, noting no students have missed school for health problems related to the work.
This is Tiffonoff's first year as principal at River, although he is a 1998 graduate of the school.
"I feel at home here ... ," he said. "I don't say I'm going to work. I say I'm going to school, because I love what I do."
Tiffonoff admitted the renovation work has posed some logistical issues. To help students become comfortable, he held an orientation at the beginning of the school year and posted numerous signs to help teachers and students identify the right classrooms.
"They're anxious to see the end come," Tiffonoff said of students' attitude about the work, "but at the same time they're excited about the progress that's being made."
Because construction traffic would have interfered with parking for home football games, Tiffonoff said River played all its home games at Magnolia's nearby Alumni Field.
"They welcomed us with their arms wide open," he said, noting River won of all its home games this year. He also noted the proceeds from those home games will continue to support athletics this spring.
This is not Tiffonoff's first experience in such a setting. He did his student teaching at Bellaire High School while it was being renovated several years ago.
"There will be bumps in the road, but getting to our final destination is what we need to be looking forward to," Tiffonoff said. "We are accommodating the staff and students as much as we can, but the main thing is to educate these kids to be productive citizens. ... We need to make sure these kids are prepared for life after high school."
Portions of River High School date back to 1956, while other parts of the building were constructed in 1968 to allow consolidation to include students from Powhatan Point. The renovation is expected to be complete in about a year.
The new Hannibal/Sardis elementary, which has yet to be named, should be ready to open in August 2014. Rob Caldwell resigned his position as a Switzerland board of education member last month and agreed to serve as principal of the new elementary.
The board of education heard concerns from the public in November about the ongoing construction at River. Members are expected to hear an update and consider how to address those issues during the board's next meeting Dec. 20.