SALEM - In one wing of Salem High School, the air is stuffy and there are no windows. Even in the winter, the temperature is kept cool with fans. In another part of the building on the same day, one of several heating units that breaks down frequently is not working, forcing students to wear their winter jackets during class.
"In the fall and spring, there are spaces in this building ... where we have temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees in a classroom," Principal William Hagen said. "I can tell you education cannot happen in those conditions."
That's just one of about a dozen building shortcomings school district administrators and School Board members have shown to members of the district's Parent Teacher Association during guided tours over the past two weeks.
Those tours are the beginning of what the school officials are hoping will be a grass-roots effort to get voters to support a $1.5 million warrant article in March. That article would pay for architectural designs for school renovations. The estimated cost of those renovations is $41 million.
Tours will be offered this week to anyone interested. Notices will be posted at the senior center, inviting older residents to a tour of their own. Residents should be prepared for an invitation to a coffee talk or a visitor showing up at their doorstep - all in an attempt to inform the community about the renovation project.
Jeff Wildfeuer attended the tour last week and spoke about the benefits of the renovation. He's a member of a group backing the renovation project. He said the whole project comes down to one thing: a need for more space.
"The bottom line has always been we know we need more space," he said.
When the approximately 600 Windham students leave in June 2009, the school's population will drop to 1,600 students. But the school's 230,000 square feet - including portable classrooms owned by Windham that will be taken away in 2010 - is only enough space for 1,150 students, according to state guidelines.
If the numbers don't shock voters, some parents and school officials are hoping the tour will.
Hagen led the most recent tour. He showed off the band and chorus rooms, saying neither was large enough to accommodate the programs the school offers. Because there is not enough room in the classrooms, students often practice piano or vocals in the hallway, the principal said.
Science students also use makeshift spaces. The school has 12 science laboratories, but since the school's population calls for 15 labs, students carry equipment from the science department to three different makeshift labs in regular classrooms every day, Hagen said.
The renovation plan calls for a stand-alone athletic complex and converting the two existing gymnasium spaces into a new home for the music department and updated science laboratories.
But Hagen said even the regular classrooms need to be improved and renovated because they're more than 40 years old.
Some spaces used as classrooms are really just oversized storage closets that have no windows or natural light.
"These spaces weren't designed to put people in," he said, showing one of those classrooms. "They were designed to put things in and that's a problem we need to address."
Parent Patti Frydryck, who has children in middle school, was among those on Hagen's most recent tour.
As she stood in one of the classrooms that was perviously a storage closet, the ceiling began to shake and the pounding of footsteps and bouncing of basketballs distracted her before she spoke.
Frydryck asked Hagen how students could learn with all the noise from the gym above.
"But how can this (school) not be shut down?" she asked.
"The infrastructure is crumbling," Hagen said. "But we're making sure we have a safe facility for kids."
Since the storage closets have become classrooms, the hallways have become storage spaces.
One section of a hallway has black tape on the floor in the shape of a square. That area is off-limits for walking; it's where the wrestling team stores its practice mats.
"Many things wind up in the hallway," Hagen said. "The Fire Department has been very patient with us and tells us, 'Guys, you've got to move things out of the hallway.'"
Hagen said the items that are too valuable or dangerous to be stored in the hallway end up in one of the school's few remaining storage closets.
One closet stores an old podium and the school's new $100,000 centralized computer server. Some days, Hagen said, information technology staffers squeeze in there, too.
After the tour, Frydryck said she was sold on the project.
"Something's got to get people to get out and vote," she said. "We can't keep pretending to make progress."
Hagen said there was a lot more work to be done, but school leaders are hoping to convince voters, one small group at a time.
Last week they convinced at least two voters, and last month they convinced Dianne Wright, a parent of a middle school student.
"I took the time to get informed," she said. "Sure, property taxes would go up. But when I looked at the facts, they were so compelling, it's worth it."
Problems at Salem High School
r Library is deemed inadequate and too small. School receives a warning label from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
r Many unit ventilators that heat and cool the school are 40 years old and frequently clog or shut down.
r Music classrooms are too small to accommodate the estimated 350 students enrolled in programs.
r Science labs are overcrowded and were first built 40 years ago.
r There are 23 entrances and exits to the building. While most remain locked during the day, they are all a threat to security.
r One oversized art room houses as many as 75 students at a time.
r The majority of the building has fire extinguishers, but no sprinklers.
r Few storage closets remain; hallways are used for storage.
r Many classrooms have no windows or natural light.
r Lockers are described as "inadequate" and too narrow for students to use.
r Television studio is overcrowded.
r Bathrooms have not been renovated in 12 years and are in poor condition.
r Winter track and wrestling teams have no space to practice, so they use hallways and the cafeteria.
r Noise from upper gymnasium can be heard in classrooms on the lower level of the school.
r Boys locker shower drain leaks to lower level, which is the children's day-care center.
r One of two elevators in the building does not meet codes and is too narrow to accommodate a stretcher in an emergency.
Source: Salem school administrators
Upcoming public tours
Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 26, at 9 a.m.
Tours start in the library.