Each time the bell rings at Sandpoint High School, the halls turn into a rush-hour expressway of bodies.
Nearly 1,300 students jostle for openings, squeeze into lockers for books and race toward the lunchroom to snatch one of the precious few seats.
The four-year-old high school was built to hold 1,000 students. But the last two years, it has overflowed.
“It’s a mass movement between classes now. It’s like herding cattle,” says Principal A.C. Woolnough, picking a path through the hall.
To cope with the crowds, the school started a split lunch this year. That means about 600 students eat at a time, but the cafeteria has seating for only 250. A tight construction budget forced cuts in the size of the cafeteria, auditorium and gym.
So during lunch, another 300 kids either head into town for a quick bite, eat in their cars or plop on the grass outside.
“It’s way too crowded. It’s horrible,” said junior Jake Harvey who was sitting outside eating with a friend. “We aren’t allowed to eat in the halls, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. They really don’t enforce it.”
Woolnough isn’t sure what will happen when winter hits and eating outside is no longer an option.
“We are already using every nook we can for lunch and classes,” he said.
The split lunch has also split up friends and forced school clubs to meet before or after school. Clubs used to gather at noon, but now half the students are still in class.
The school now uses six portable classrooms behind the nearby Middle School to handle the student overload.
Because it takes more time for students to walk outside and across the campus to the portables, the passing time between classes had to be extended from five to six minutes.
“It’s still tough to try and get into your locker between classes,” said junior Ryan Farwell. “If it’s at the end of the hall it’s all right, but if it’s in the middle there’s too many people to get through.”
Even with the portable classrooms, most classes still average between 28 and 30 students. Two first-year honors English classes are stuffed with 36 and 38 students.
Woolnough hopes emergency levy funds will pay for another teacher, but the trick will be finding classroom space for a newcomer.
“It’s a mess but we are making it work the best we can,” he said.
If that isn’t enough bad news, district administrators, say they can do little about the jam-packed school in the near future.
Bonner County voters have resisted major construction levies, with the most recent being passed in 1987. That levy built five new schools, including the current high school.
The district has formed a committee to review the high school’s problem. Many ideas are being tossed out, but all require cooperative taxpayers. The options include:
Adding on to the existing high school.
Hauling in more portable classrooms.
Building one or two new middle schools. The existing middle school would then become part of the high school campus.
“We have to decide if Sandpoint wants a large mega-high school with 1,500 or so students or look at a couple of high schools with a population of around 700 or 800 each,” Woolnough said.
“Whatever happens there is no short-term relief in sight, other than adding portables.”
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