Classes are in session. Post Falls High School doesn’t look overcrowded. The hallways, at least in the newer sections, are big and bright.
But when the bell rings, watch out. A torrent of teens pours through the halls.
“It can get kind of scary,” principal John Billetz says of the jostling.
There are 1,055 students in a building that’s supposedly maxed out at 880. Five portable classrooms help, but don’t make up for too little parking, too few lockers, a too small cafeteria.
“We’ve got kids eating on the floor,” says Billetz. “And we’re doing a double lunch shift.”
Conditions are worse at Post Falls Junior High, with its skinny halls and 661 students in a building meant to hold 540.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked to approve construction of a new high school. The old one would become a middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
Voters have twice rejected the idea. With booming elementary enrollments nipping at their heels, school board members felt they had no choice but to try again.
There are 4,112 kids in the schools now, 430 above capacity. Officials figure the new high school should meet the community’s needs until 2005, when enrollment is expected to reach 5,306.
That’s based on a projection of 3 percent annual growth. This year, enrollment grew 4.5 percent.
Long considered a sleepy bedroom community between Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, Post Falls is surging with new businesses that are paying lots of property taxes.
And that, school officials note, reduces the tax burden of school construction that’s shouldered by homeowners.
Still, the Kootenai County Property Taxpayers Association opposed the last two levies. Vice president Dee Lawless of Post Falls is no more thrilled with this one.
“I don’t believe there’s a need for another high school,” she says. “People have suggested they build a new junior high, which is much less expensive … The plans for the high school at this time are too grandiose.”
Because some people consider an auditorium and sports complex to be frills, the school district is listing those as a separate ballot item.
There’s no architectural plan for the school building yet, because the district hasn’t had money to pay for one. Up to a year would be spent planning.
The high school would open three autumns from now, in time for the class of 2000 to graduate from the new school.
It would be built north of town, near Prairie View Elementary School. There would be plenty of room for cars, in contrast to the existing school, which is hemmed in by a neighborhood sprinkled with “no parking” signs.
One reason the existing building would be great for a middle school is that the younger kids don’t drive, says assistant principal Carol Carlson.
Space for high school vo-tech and music classes is especially cramped. Science labs were last updated 20 years ago. Drama students don’t have a stage. If there were more room for art instruction, Carlson says, twice as many students would sign up for it.
This is Billetz’ second year at Post Falls High. The quality of the teachers was one thing that attracted him to the school, he says.
“They don’t have the most modern of schools, but the faculty has really gone the extra mile to try to make things work for the kids.”
Instead of being demoralized by last spring’s second defeat of a high school bond, he says, the staff was buoyed by the fact that it came so close to passing.
The bond got 62.6 percent approval, just shy of the two-thirds majority needed. A 1994 bond proposal got only 49 percent.
“The third time’s a charm,” says Carlson. “That’s what we’re saying.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Proposals Tuesday, Post Falls voters will cast ballots on two proposals: A $15.8 million bond levy that would build a high school for 1,300 students, and refurbish the heating system in the existing school building to make it usable as a middle school. A $1.9 million bond levy that would build a community/high school auditorium and athletic complex, and buy equipment for a cafeteria at the existing building for its use as a middle school. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at all schools and the Pleasant View Community Center.