The Valley Journals

MURRAY--A new Hillcrest Junior High School may be completed by spring 2015, if the Murray Board of Education adopts the proposed bond language at its April meeting to put a $33 million bond request on the June ballot.

Murray School District officials met with city and school leaders Feb. 16 to unveil a timeline to replace the existing dilapidated Hillcrest Junior High on nearby Hillside Drive. If a bond is passed, construction would begin in March 2013 and by July 2015, demolition would begin of the existing school.

The projected construction cost to replace Hillcrest Junior High is $34 million, but the bond would also include $4 million for seismic upgrades to all Murray School District schools, which would take place from 2013 through 2017. However, the school board has already set aside $5 million for the rebuilding of Hillcrest, leaving the total bonding request at $33 million. Supt. Steve Hirase said for the owners of a $200,000 home, it would mean a less than $5 per month property tax increase over 20 years.

Hirase said it would cost more than $20 million to remodel Hillcrest Junior High.

“Even with those upgrades, we’d still have the same layout and safety issues with the hallways and other concerns,” he said.

Former Supt. Richard R. Tranter, who is guiding the Hillcrest rebuilding project, said the existing building design gives educational as well as safety challenges.

“This school is nothing but a series of stairs and halls after you leave a classroom,” Tranter said.

The original 1911 building was designed for Murray’s first- through eighth-grade students, and two years later, served as the junior high and high school. Since then, there have been five building upgrades to house the current 800 junior high students.

Tranter said these additions have added space, but created more problems, such as narrow hallways, some which are dead-ends; multiple levels of stairs; small classrooms and lockers; and elevators on opposing ends of the building.

“There are parts of the building that don’t meet the ADA accessibility codes, leaks in classrooms and the media center, rusty water in the home economics rooms, and ice build-up on the inside of windows since we have a heating plant that can’t heat all the classrooms consistently,” Tranter said.

Principal Jennifer Covington said that the current building prohibits technology upgrades.

“We'd love to implement more technology to further our students’ education, but we can’t, not even with more extension cords and duct tape because we’ve maxed out our old infrastructure,” she said.

Hillcrest, which is grandfathered in to old disability accessibility codes, poses safety concerns to students, teachers and to safety officers, Mayor Dan Snarr said.

“It’s a real concern for everyone,” Snarr said. “There would be issues for police, and hard for our fire fighters to fight fires and get everyone out. This plan addresses those issues, as well as puts the new school back off of State Street for students’ safety, and will provide adequate parking for school and community events. We can’t remodel again. The junior high is a catastrophe and we need to address it. Our number one priority in our community should be education, and I will work to actively support it.”

The school board has purchased 21 of 22 Hillside Drive homes the past three years.

“This was my first home, my world, my life and now we’re needing to part,” said 84-year-old Boyd Jensen, who lives on Hillside Drive with his grandchildren. “I’ve had everything I’ve wanted here, but I recognize what needs to happen and how it will benefit the children of Murray. I have confidence that they’re doing the right thing.”