The district staff and school board discussed the future of the middle school after the water incident

PIONEER PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Staff and school board members discussed the future of Molalla River Middle School at the Dec. 14 board meeting.

When rusty brown water poured from classroom faucets at Molalla River Middle School on Monday, Dec. 11, District Facilities Supervisor Tony Tiano was there until it ran clear; and when multiple middle school classrooms were without heat that same day, he was there for that too. Now, he's just hoping he won't have to be there for a busted pipe or something worse.

"With just knowing all of the underground plumbing that's been underneath that building for years, I just have a feeling one of these days we're going to have something break loose, and it'll be during school," Tiano said. "I just have that fear of: something is bound to happen. It's just a matter of when. Those pipes are so corroded and they've been underneath there for I don't know how many years. Everything kind of has a life expectancy."

The life expectancy of the middle school has been a topic of conversation at school board meetings for the last few years, and the last school board meeting on Dec. 14 was no different. Tiano gave his facilities report centered around struggles at the middle school and the board responded sympathetically.

"Sounds like the infrastructure at the middle school is sort of beyond its useful life," Board Member Mark Lucht said. "The whole infrastructure is outdated."

"And it's draining resources from the rest of the district," Board Member Jennifer Satter added.

The middle school was built in 1952, and according to Tiano, the boiler is stamped for that same year. Both Tiano and Mann assured the board that the problems have not come about as a result of poor maintenance, but that crews are doing the best work they can to maintain the middle school building.

"We're going to do the very best with the facilities that we have been given by the taxpayers," Mann said, "and we're going to have pride and ownership."

Tiano suggested that the building is simply outdated.

"[The building] just needs to be retired," Tiano said at the meeting.

But two separate construction bonds went down in recent votes. In May 2016, a $73.4 million bond to build new middle and elementary schools went down, and in November 2016 a similar bond for $88.9 million went down by larger margins.

"Just put everybody in trailers and close that school, because apparently we're not going to pass any kind of bond." -Linda Eskridge

"Just put everybody in trailers and close that school, because apparently we're not going to pass any kind of bond," said Board Member Linda Eskridge at the Dec. 14 meeting.

But according to recent data collected in an online Thought Exchange survey, many community members have an understanding of the need for a new middle school. In response to the question, "What are your thoughts or questions about the future of our facilities?" there were 87 responses; at least 60 of those were in favor of replacing the middle school, and 10 suggested replacing the elementary school.

"We are in dire need of a new middle school," a Molalla Elementary School staff member said in the Thought Exchange. "Staff, community members, and students have expressed concerns about the current facility's safety."

Superintendent Tony Mann said that whether or not another bond makes it onto the ballot is a decision of the school board. He also suggested that the school board will consider the Thought Exchange responses.

"With a board like ours, who is so committed to the voice of their patrons, they're going to want to take anything into consideration that they can as it relates to future decisions," Mann said, "and the community's voice is part of that."

While the recent votes have caused hope to wane, Tiano said that he's willing to offer ideas for a bond and that he's not giving up.

"The middle school building does not match the pride that our employees and students have." -Molalla River Middle School staff member

"How can we best make the community aware of the need for a new middle school?" a Molalla River Middle School staff member said in the Thought Exchange. "The middle school building does not match the pride that our employees and students have, we need the community to invest in students' futures."

Kristen Wohlers
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