South Kitsap community touring school district’s well-worn facilities

South Kitsap High is a high-achieving place of learning despite the school’s wear and tear.

South Kitsap residents have been invited by the school district’s administrators to tour district facilities through the end of April as part of the SK 360 informational series.

Superintendent Karst Brandsma said he hopes the tours will give community members a better understanding of the condition of South Kitsap School District facilities before the district makes decisions about how to address future building needs.

PORT ORCHARD — Community members who entered South Kitsap High School for a facilities tour April 16 were struck by an overriding observation: this sprawling campus is tidy and functional — but worn out.

Classrooms filled to the brim with students are in use every hour of the school day. First designed in the days of the Kennedy administration, then later updated in 1978 with additional square footage, the school is a place that makes do the best it can, with what it has.

Unfortunately, what it offers doesn’t match the standards other Kitsap County high schools have to educate students with 21st-century workplace needs.

The crowded classroom hallways and cafeteria strike a decidedly ’80s vibe, with a splash of the cinderblock ’60s thrown in here and there. Technology advances have overwhelmed the school infrastructure’s ability to accommodate de rigueur educational requirements of the Information Age.

Mounted on hallway walls near the ceiling is cabling for computer networking that snakes throughout the school. Metal conduit piping was attached to the walls not long ago for information network needs, including cable bundles for other communication requirements.

Through this hodge-podge of wiring add-ons, one of the school’s “make-do” successes is being able to broadcast the lively WTV late morning closed-circuit television news program on wall-mounted flat-screen TVs throughout South Kitsap High.

The high school’s principal, Diane Fox, pointed to the communications program, broadcast from a small studio and control room on campus, as a “powerful connector of information to our entire school.

“It’s a program run by students specifically interested in video production, and we see that every single day. It’s our version of The Today Show.”

Fox acknowledges that the collection of school facilities comprising South Kitsap High is outdated and makes educating students in technology-laden subjects such as software design, applied sciences and STEM-based engineering concepts a growing challenge.

But despite the looming facilities crunch, Fox remains a proud Wolves booster.

“An old building does not tell you about the quality of education in our school,” the principal told a small group of residents prior to the start of the tour.

“It simply tells you that we’re in an aging building that has some challenges ahead.”

Fox said that when she thinks of being the principal “of a big ship like this, we want all our students to not just graduate with a diploma, but to graduate with a life outside the diploma.

“We feel a real moral obligation to make sure we give kids a post-secondary plan that is specific to them. We don’t ask students anymore where they’re going to college … we ask our students what is next for them — and why. Why are you choosing that pathway?

“We want to make the connection between the work you do at school to your aspiration outside of school. We want your experience at school to prepare you for life outside of high school.”

She said adding a ninth-grade freshmen class to the building’s population was a challenge, but it was done for all the right reasons.

Having freshmen students on campus, Fox said, is a valuable experience for the ninth-graders.

“It was painful for us and for the community. We endured some scrutiny about why we would do that, and I’m sure you’ve heard the narrative about how the district is forcing the community to build a new school” to accommodate them.

“We’re one of the few schools in the nation that did not have ninth-graders on the high-school campus. I think there’s only one more high school in the state of Washington without them at the high school.

“We know that ninth grade is a powerful connector to the high-school experience, and not just for academics, but also for the co-curricular things we can offer them. We want them to be life-ready.”

South Kitsap High’s 2,800 student population is served by a staff of four full-time security officers, along with Port Orchard Police Department-assigned officer Dave Humphrey, all operating out of a small office adjacent to the cafeteria and the entrance to the main building.

Humphrey said the school has a comprehensive array of surveillance cameras that watch school entrances and common spaces. But this day, as with most, the students are mellow and muted, perhaps because of the endless rainy weather outside.

The principal-led tour then visited two of South Kitsap High’s most glaring facility deficiencies stand out.

At the rear of the campus, the school’s indoor pool building and the pool itself are aging badly.

Last winter, the pool, which also is used by the South Kitsap community before and after school, was closed briefly for repairs to its leaking hydraulic operating system.

Joey Dame, who is teaches swimming and serves as the pool’s aquatic director, also said the pool building has a leaking roof that needs an estimated $1.3-1.8 million to replace it. The 1970s-era locker rooms also include rusty, unuseable lockers that need to be replaced.

A competitive prep game was played on the school’s baseball field a few weeks ago after being unplayable for four years, Fox said.

Its muddy, swampy surface has been increasingly impacted by rainwater drainage from new construction on adjacent property to the field. She noted that $140,000 has been allocated by the school district to repair the drainage issue this summer.

One bragging point on the tour for the principal: Visitors were able to take a look at new portables added last year next to the staff’s parking lot. The manufactured structures include six classrooms that house Spanish classes taught by the high school’s six full-time Spanish teachers.

They contrast in comparison to two old, long-time wood portable buildings on campus. While the single-pane windows are inefficient and the exterior paint is peeling in some sections, Fox — ever the optimist — pointed out the venerable buildings do offer a singular advantage.

The floors, installed presumably with old-growth timbered floors sometime in the middle of the last century, sparkle and appear ready to take on another few decades of student traffic.

South Kitsap High School’s principal, Diane Fox, points out the capabilities of the facility’s library to visitors touring the school on April 16. (Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo)

South Kitsap High School’s principal, Diane Fox, points out the capabilities of the facility’s library to visitors touring the school on April 16. (Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo)