After touring Adams Elementary School, Janesville School Board member Kevin Murray wondered if things were just as bad at Wilson, Washington and Roosevelt elementary schools.

The answer, according to district officials, was “yes, yes and yes.”

On Tuesday, the Janesville School Board held a workshop that included the tour and an extended discussion of key principles that would guide board members as they explore the possibility of a referendum to update current facilities. Board members made clear they would not consider closing a school, building a new school or adding square footage.

The board has not yet decided whether to go to referendum, but the board is considering it as a way to address the needs of its aging school buildings.

Board President Steve Huth said he picked Adams Elementary for the tour because it “wasn’t the best and it wasn’t the worst” in terms of its needs.

Nevertheless, board members were surprised by what they saw.

“I always knew Adams was old—and I think they did a great job of maintaining it—but to me, personally, it looks very unsafe,” Murray said. Here are some of the things board members learned about the school during their tour:

  • The school, which was built in 1939, has bathrooms that are not accessible.
  • The kitchen, which serves about 300 students a day, is only about 150 square feet.
  • The plumbing and HVAC systems are so old that maintenance staff have to look on eBay for parts.
  • Computers charge in hallways, where they compete for outlets with floor scrubbers and other cleaning equipment, and adding outlets would be difficult because the building’s construction is lathe and plaster.
  • Heating in the building is uneven and inefficient in the colder months, and in the warmer months the building gets so hot, they’ve resorted to putting barn fans in the halls.

Murray and other board members also were concerned about safety deficiencies, including the PA system. Principal Dana Simmons said when she calls for a soft lockdown, she makes the announcement over the PA and then calls teachers on their walkie-talkies to ensure the message is delivered.

Board members were also concerned about the school’s office. It’s not near the main entrance to the building, so the secretaries who buzz in visitors do not have a clear line of sight to where visitors go after they walk through the front door.

The second part of the meeting focused on creating a set of principles for referendum planning. Consultant Joe Donovan told board members that these principles would help staff come up with options for a possible referendum.

Safety, accessibility, cost-effective choices, energy efficiency and creating a learning environment that is “supportive of the academic, artistic and athletic experience” were principles the board found easily agreed on.

One proposed principle, “State of the art, an element of community pride” was eliminated. Board members felt the phrase “state of the art” would be lightning rod for community criticism.