BBPS tour highlights dire need for school improvements

BBPS tour highlights dire need for school improvements
Science teacher Suzie Smith shows her chemistry room that hasn’t been updated in decades
May 25th, 2023 | Andrew Lacy

BROKEN BOW – Members of the public had a chance to see first hand the challenges facing Broken Bow Public Schools Wednesday as staff members provided tours of the high school and middle school buildings.

It was the sixth in a series of community meetings conducted by the district in recent weeks as the school board looks for a path forward in facility improvements. In 2021 voters rejected a $29.9 million bond issue that would have renovated the high school building while demolishing and replacing the middle school.

Science teacher Suzie Smith showcased her chemistry lab that lacks proper airflow and HVAC, gas flow issues to lab tables and an emergency gas shut off that is difficult to operate.

Smith also highlighted several safety issues, including a lack of exits from the room in the event of a fire or other emergency and an inconveniently placed eyewash station. She added that an air quality monitor was placed in her room during the school year and the air quality was consistently poor.

Agriculture teacher Caleb tenBensel also spoke about a lack of ventilation in the space where he teaches welding. tenBensel said there is a clear demand with 40 students taking welding during the past school year, but he has just 11 booths and six machines with not enough ventilation to add more machines.

He also noted that the area he uses for cooking and food science is only partly separated from the welding shop, allowing smoke and fumes to drift in.

Vocal music teacher Morgan Harms noted the challenges faced by the music program and said the auditorium built in 1938 speaks for itself to anyone who has set foot in it.

Meanwhile Director of Operations Jim Zlomke showed visitors the dated boiler room and piecemeal heating and cooling system. He also noted that the concession stand does not have direct sewer access for the drain in its sink.

Activities Director Jeff Ellis showed the cramped locker rooms that lack air flow. He said he regularly hears complaints from visiting teams.

Ellis added that for many people the gym and football field are the only parts of the school they ever see and that the presentation of those facilities can hide the troubles of the educational spaces. He also noted that recent improvements to those areas were paid for almost entirely by the booster club and not from the district’s budget.

A common refrain from staff members was that they make things work with what they have, but students deserve better.

Superintendent Darren Tobey said Broken Bow students have excelled academically and athletically despite the challenges. He noted that the district’s enrollment has increased by about 100 students compared to 15 years ago.

Those in attendance agreed that seeing the facilities for themselves was eye opening and made it clear that something has to be done. Tobey said the problem always comes back to the cost and how to pay for things.

Tobey said that only 31 school districts in the state spend less per student than Broken Bow and most of those are Class A and B schools that receive much more state funding. He said this past school year Broken Bow Public Schools received just $100,000 in state aid.

Tobey said the district’s options are to try another bond issue, either with the same design from 2021 or a new design, save through the district’s building fund to build in phases seven years at a time or continue to update current spaces as money is available. He added that under LB2 passed by the Legislature in 2021, ag land would be taxed at a discount for a bond compared to the regular levy.

The district currently assesses a five cent levy for its building fund. Tobey said each cent taxed provides the district about $96,000 per year, meaning it would take a little more than four years to generate the roughly $2 million that he estimated it would cost to update the HVAC in just the high school portion of the building.

Tobey said he and the school board will now meet to discuss the issues and concerns raised during these community meetings. He told KBEAR earlier this month they would like to decide on a plan by the time the annual budget is submitted in September.

Anyone who has any questions, comments, concerns or would like to arrange to tour the building themselves is encouraged to contact Tobey or any member of the school board.

Many of the chemistry lab tables are not functional
The auditorium is largely unchanged from when it opened in 1938
Jim Zlomke shows the school’s dated boiler room
Caleb tenBensel said the space used for automotive classes often serves as a catchall space for other things
The high school locker rooms are cramped and poorly ventilated. Accommodations are worse for visiting teams
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