Frustrated with aging facilities at 82-year-old Grant Union High School, Del Paso Heights community members on Monday asked school and political leaders to install campus HVAC units and consider other improvements such as filling the swimming pool.
“The heartbeat of our community starts here,” said City Councilman Allen Warren, who convened the discussion at Robertson Community Center to address neighborhood concerns. “We can’t have a healthy community until we have a healthy high school.”
Grant parents and students have complained for years about the lack of heat and air conditioning in classrooms, as well as a broken pool and other maintenance issues. On Monday, parents also voiced concerns about a recent case of tuberculosis at the school and asked how the district could help students transition from continuation programs back to traditional high school.
Local residents at the meeting seemed evenly divided between those demanding to know why it has taken so long to complete improvements and those who wanted to give the school district’s new administration more time to turn things around.
District officials last week unveiled a timeline for installing 71 new heating and air conditioning systems at Grant before school begins in August, at a cost of $4.2 million from deferred maintenance funds. The district also plans to update its other campuses.
Steven Martinez, in his first year as Twin Rivers Unified School District superintendent, said he didn’t blame parents for doubting that the district would complete the work after years of broken promises from previous administrations. “We are going to get these HVAC units,” he said.
Monday night, parent Sascha Vogt asked whether there was a contingency plan if classrooms heat up before the HVAC units are installed.
Martinez agreed that temperatures could reach the 90s in June. “Anytime you get 30 to 40 kids in a class, it gets hot,” he said. “We will figure out what we need to do to support this.”
Community activist Debra Cummings asked when the district would fix the broken swimming pool behind the school. “Every year I see things get fixed at other schools,” she said. “Rio Linda (High) has an Olympic-size, heated swimming pool. Who do we talk to to get that done?”
The superintendent agreed “we need equity across the board in our district” and said that district staff members were walking through each campus and putting together a master list of projects.
One woman asked about a tuberculosis exposure that occurred in February at Grant. One student was diagnosed with active tuberculosis, and 21 students were later found to have a latent form of the disease, which has no symptoms and is not infectious.
Grant Principal Darris Hinson dispelled rumors that even more students had contracted the disease: “We have one student diagnosed with active tuberculosis, and that child returned to school today.”
Warren is one of a number of local and state politicians who got involved after The Sacramento Bee found that at least 140 new HVAC units worth $3 million had sat unused for years in the North Sacramento district. Among them were six dozen units purchased for aging Grant High School.
Besides Warren, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson and City Councilman Steve Cohn attended Monday’s meeting.
Warren said that his office would continue to monitor the facilities issue at Grant. He urged parents to continue to hold his office and Twin Rivers Unified officials accountable.
Martinez also took the opportunity to talk about work the district is doing to improve its academic programs and graduation rate. “We are doing a lot of work that probably goes unnoticed,” he said. “We aren’t celebrating our work. This is the work that should be done.”
Ronnie Walton of Jubilare Ministry liked what he heard.
“I haven’t seen a superintendent talk like this for a long time,” Walton said. “It’s a new day.”