The Heights Herald

Vote no? Are you kidding?

Owen Johnson, Co-Editor-In-Chief

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Much needed improvements to Columbia Heights High School and North Park Elementary won’t be happening in the forseeable future. Community members rejected the referendum proposal on November 7.

The high turnout of “No” voters was due, in large part, to a Facebook group called Columbia Heights Friends for an Informed Decision. Led by community members Adam Davis, Ramona Anderson and Tim Utz, CHFID launched a successful campaign via Facebook. They also distributed yard signs reading, “Another CH School Board bond? Are you kidding? Vote No.” The message was clear: the bond should not pass and the district was ridiculous to even try. While the group succeeded in derailing the plan, the action was completely misguided.

Davis, one of the CHFID administrators and a 1994 CHHS alumnus, posted a Facebook status arguing why each of the proposed improvements were unnecessary. While other community members also posted frequently about the vote on the Columbia Heights Rant and Rave page, at least Davis gave some coherent arguments. His claims were understandable but misguided.

The post, titled “The Needs, the Wants and the Shiny,” claimed that the majority of renovations would be frivolous spending, and that even those that are necessary are a result of the district’s past mistakes. For example, Davis argues that the only reason North Park needs a new library is because the previous one was replaced by 21st century learning studios. While this is true, the post conveniently left out vital information. The previous library was overcrowded and dysfunctional, necessitating a new facility anyway.

The 21 century learning studios were clearly not a frivolous expense. According to North Park principal Jeff Cacek, people from around the world have come to tour the studios, and other schools have been built based on the groundbreaking model. The facility and its innovative programs resulted in increased learning.

Safety was another primary issue the dissenters chose to ignore. North Park remains the only elementary school in the district to have a single lane entrance for buses and cars, creating an unsafe parking lot situation. The school’s lunchroom is so small that it takes nearly three hours to get all the students fed. Finally, classroom configurations are so complicated that classes spend a total of 42 minutes a day transitioning between rooms.

“My biggest concern is the security at the entrance of North Park Elementary School,” Columbia Heights mayor Donna Schmitt said.

Despite her apparent interest, after numerous attempts to contact her, the mayor did not respond to the question of whether or not she supported the referendum.

These North Park issues would have been solved if the referendum had passed. Davis was wrong. The renovations were not proposed to simply make the school nicer; they were necessary updates needed to keep the building up to par with other elementary schools in the state.

In regards to the renovations needed at CHHS, I could go on and on. Referendum opponents either ignored or didn’t bother to research the current state of the Performing Arts Center, a space that was never designed for artistic performance, but for presentation style addresses. Lighting is poor and the space lacks acoustic quality. The curtains are outdated and damaged. Most of the sound system is on loan from district custodian Dale Marko. The backstage is only wheelchair accessible because of an old wooden ramp that was built by theater students and directors. It isn’t even safety compliant.

And then there’s the band room. Even the opponents acknowledge the high school’s desperate need for a better instrumental space. Like the North Park library, they argued that the school had a space that could have been renovated to be a new band room, but that the district chose to make it a dance studio. They don’t realize that space was also sorely needed to free up the Performing Arts Center which is booked district wide. Besides, why would you vote against something that, in your own words, fixes a mistake? By voting no, they sent a message that they would rather deny our schools desperately needed renovations out of spite than actually fix the problems. They are punishing us, the kids, by denying the district a viable solution. This circular logic is extremely frustrating for students and parents of the district. Instead of simply rejecting the proposed renovations, I would love to see CHFID come up with an alternative plan.

Groups like the Columbia Heights Friends for an Informed Decision and Columbia Heights Rant and Rave are creating political drama where there is none. I don’t know if this stubborn opposition comes from personal grudges or simply from a desire to stir things up. Regardless, the facts are simple; the renovations were desperately needed and voters decided that petty discourse was more important than the kids of this district.

The leaders of CHFID are now encouraging “no” voters to keep their signs in case the district attempts another referendum. To those who have already committed to denying our schools desperately needed money based on a trivial grudge, I simply ask: Are you kidding?

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The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School
Vote no? Are you kidding?