When it comes to schools in the Southern Humboldt Unified School District that are in need of repairs, Agnes J. Johnson Elementary in Weott is at the top of the list.
“The situation at Agnes Johnson is an emergency,” District Superintendent Catherine Scott declared matter-of-factly.
Scott was speaking the day after the district’s Board of Trustees gathered at South Fork High School last Thursday to discuss “facilities needs throughout the district,” as the agenda for the meeting put it.
The meeting ended with agreement that repair work would commence this summer.
The list of woes at Agnes Johnson, according to information in the agenda packet, include: “Sewage and plumbing pipes that have failed and are no longer functioning,” a staff bathroom and a bathroom in the kindergarten/first-grade classroom that “don’t work at all,” and a boiler with failing pipes.
“There is no heat in the bathrooms due to the need [for a fix] to make the overall system work. A new heating system is needed,” the handout said.
As bad as all that sounds, perhaps the most pressing problem is that a storm drain on the east side of the school “is not functioning.”
“Two different classrooms have been flooded” as a result, Scott explained in the interview. “We had to shuffle kids to a different room.”
The other school sites also have needs. Like Agnes Johnson, Casterlin Elementary, Redway Elementary, Whitethorn Elementary and the Osprey Campus all need new heating systems and exterior paint jobs. Asbestos floors at all the sites except Casterlin need to be replaced. And a new roof at Osprey “is needed immediately.”
In terms of the need for heating systems, Nick Boyd, the district’s director of maintenance, has “suggested looking into installing individual propane-fired heaters.”
According to the agenda packet: “This solution would not provide air conditioning, but might [be] a viable option for Whitethorn and Agnes Johnson.”
When asked, Scott said it is not certain how much all the work will cost, although she made it clear that money for the repairs would come out of voter-approved bond funds.
Both her and Boyd said that Dinsmore Construction out of Fortuna, which has served as the district’s general contractor on past bond-funded construction jobs, would not be involved this time.
Instead, the district will hire contractors directly through a competitive bidding process in which the contract for a particular job would be awarded to the firm submitting the lowest bid.
On another matter, it was revealed that while candidates have been interviewed for the South Fork principal’s job, the right person has not yet been found for the job.
To increase the position’s attractiveness, the board last Thursday increased the annual salary by $93 to make it an even $90,000.
The decision was also made to re-advertise the job with a closing date of April 20.
During the meeting, Scott floated an idea. In the event that re-advertising the job fails to bring forward the right person, she said she would be willing to take on the principal’s post in addition to her job as superintendent.
“We would look [to hire] a vice principal in the hope that that person would become principal,” she told the board.
She said that if she were to be simultaneously superintendent and principal, it would probably be necessary to redefine her job responsibilities “so I don’t go crazy.”
In the interview the next day, Scott, who typically puts in 50- to 60-hour weeks as superintendent, said: “It’s my first choice to hire a principal. But I want to make sure the school has effective leadership so we can move forward in the best interests of the students.”