EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part Seven

Read Part One

“I graduated from [Marshall County High School] just a few years ago. Other than the Heath High School shooting that happened 20 years ago, things like this don’t happen. Marshall County is a quiet place for the most part.

“I will say it doesn’t surprise me that the handgun was brought into the school so easily, as when I attended there were no security measures to check for such things. It’s also a farming/rural community so access to guns is not out of the ordinary.”

— January 23 posting on the Websleuths.com user forum

Every few years, we hear of an incident in Colorado where a gun is discharged inside a school or on a school campus. In most cases, no one dies as a result, but in some cases — such as the 1999 event at Columbine High School in Littleton — multiple students or school staff have been killed or injured.

Temporary crosses commemorating the 15 students and staff killed during the 1999 Columbine High School massacre sit atop Rebel Hill. The two perpetrators of that tragic event were included in the memorial.

We are listening here to Bill Bond, as quoted in a PBS news story from 2014. Bond was the principal at Heath High School in Kentucky in 1997 when a 14-year-old freshman fired on a prayer group, killing three female students and wounding five.

“You see troubled young men who are desperate and they strike out and they don’t see that they have any hope.”

Bond, who is now the ‘safe schools specialist’ with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said there was a time when he believed school shootings would stop. He’s come to a sad realization that gives him a “sick pit in my stomach” that they won’t end, he said.

“Schools are still part of the American society, and the American society is violent.”

Several recent events conspired to spark my research into gun violence in our public schools. The first was a conversation at a Pagosa Peak Open School board meeting about school security plans at the new charter school. The second was a shooting at a Kentucky high school, where Hannah Dysinger — daughter of my friends Jeff and Cory Dysinger — was injured, and a subsequent conversation with Daily Post columnist DC Duncan about his article on school violence. (DC is also friends with the Dysingers. You can read his column here.)

The final impetus came from a conversation held at the Pagosa Springs Middle School library, during a February 5 Archuleta School District ‘Planning Assistance Team’ meeting where a proposed $50 million school facilities plan was discussed at some length — and perhaps rather candidly as well. We had just heard PAT volunteer Chris Pitcher ask architect-consultant Stuart Coppedge for clarity regarding $16 million worth of renovations and repairs at Pagosa Springs High School.

We are now listening to Middle School principal Chris Hinger, make a similar request of Mr. Coppedge, to clarify the proposed $4.4 million worth of “life safety and security upgrades” at the Middle School:

“I would be remiss, not to ask the same question Chris had about the High School — about the Middle School — because I feel that the $4.4 million is kind of ambiguous. So if I’m advocating as the principal of this school, are we talking about just a new entryway, and then ‘good luck’ on the other things?

“I would like a little bit of detail, especially when you said, ‘I want the group to deem this as how to move forward.’ That’s a little hard to do, when it’s simply been a number figure of $4.4 million.”

Mr. Coppedge suggested that the “largest part’ of that expenditure would go into a remodeled school entrance. Speaking as a non-architect, I’d estimate the current Middle School entrance to be roughly 1,000 square feet. That would mean a per-square-foot price of maybe $4,000 per square foot for a “safe and secure” entrance.

For comparison purposes, the County government spent about two years developing price estimates for a new County jail, and when they were quoting the cost of the new jail last summer, we were given a cost of about $400 per square foot. We might be curious that it could cost 10 times as much per square foot to remodel our Middle School entrance, as to build a “safe and secure” County jail. Perhaps we will learn more about that, in the future.

But maybe money is no object for the school district and for its consultants from RTA Architects? Mr. Coppedge noted that no actual design work has been done, so the estimate of $4.4 million is based on educated guesswork. One of the volunteers asked how such guesswork unfolds.

Architect Stuart Coppedge:

“Some of it is square footage. Some of it is, ‘How much was spent on another project, over there, to get security upgrades done?’

“You can nail it down eventually. But this is budgeting. It’s not even estimating. It’s a budget.

“The question we always ask ourselves — if somebody said, ‘You have $4.4 million to handle all of the safety and security issues at the Middle School, and the worst air quality issues in this building, would you, as an architect, take on this project, feeling confident that you could accomplish those goals, with that budget?’

“And if the answer is, ‘Yeah, I would,’ then we know the budget is about right.

“I know that sounds a little fuzzy. But that’s really how this process is done. It really is.”

I had no idea that the cost of new school buildings and expensive renovations were estimated in such a simple fashion. The architects just ask themselves, “Would I take on the design of a safe and secure entrance and ventilation upgrades for Pagosa Springs Middle School if the budget were $4.4 million?” (Knowing that I will be paid about 10 percent of the total price for my architectural design work?)

If the answer is, “Yes,” then the budget is accurate.

I’m sure many folks in Archuleta County would feel very satisfied to see $4.4 million in tax revenues spent on the Pagosa Springs Middle School entrance and on its air handling system… and $16 million on deferred maintenance and “safety and security” upgrades and a new vo-tech building at the Pagosa Springs High School…

… and $27.7 million for a new elementary school to replace the existing building that is getting old and crowded. The new school would also have “life safety and security” features that do not exist at the current elementary school, of course. And it seems the architects chosen to design these renovations and upgrades are likely to be satisfied as well — by the budget the School District has developed over the past few weeks.

We can assume that many Colorado schools have put “life safety and security” improvements in place since the tragic Columbine High School massacre in 1999, and no doubt those improvements have provided some measure of confidence for teachers, administrators, students and parents.

But when you look at the numbers… they don’t seen to be solving the problem.

Read Part Eight…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.