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January 21, 2008

Officials hope tours build support for Salem High renovation project

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.

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