Bakersfield High School’s Warren Hall was built like a battleship, but even great ships sometimes take on water.

The building, housing 55 classrooms, is the largest at BHS, but its age shows. The lecture hall windows are painted from the outside to block the sun and heat, an innovation of times before double-pane windows and tint became standard.

Exposed steam pipes hang below the ceiling, bits of insulation poking through where kids routinely hang off the pipes. When one of those 10-inch water pipes burst years ago, a muddy soup dotted with floating floor tiles flooded the basement of the 88-year-old building.

“It’s lasted a long time and it served us well,” Woody Colvard, the district’s director of facilities planning, said while touring Warren Hall. “But it’s time to fix it.”

Renovations worth $42.5 million at Warren Hall top a list of modernization projects to be funded if taxpayers pass Kern High School District’s $280 million bond measure in November.

That list also includes two career training centers budgeted at about $123 million; a $125 million high school planned in south Bakersfield; a $9.2 million special education facility; and roughly $103 million worth of renovations throughout Foothill, North, Arvin and Bakersfield high schools.

It also would allocate about $28 million for the district’s regional occupation center and adult school. 

“If you allowed 2,000 students to run through your house for 25 or 30 years, can you imagine what your house would look like?” said Associate Superintendent of Business Scott Cole. “There's a lot of needs because these schools take a lot of abuse.”

The district is counting on receiving state matching funds for projects exceeding its budget if the bond measure passes. District officials say this bond is necessary to keep up with enrollment growth, which is expected to rise to more than 40,000 students by 2025.

Board members initially considered asking voters this year for $440 million in bonds before reeling back to $280 million, in part because declining oil property values have decreased bonding capacity but also to decrease the amount of interest charged to taxpayers.

The district, however, plans to ask taxpayers for an additional $160 million in 2020, Cole said.

CAREER TECH, POOLS

The district would also like to expand vocational education.

The district maintains one career training facility in east Bakersfield, which serves about 1,000 students. It wants to construct two more — in the southwest and northwest. They’d feature a physical therapy center, auto shop, dental lab, medical facility, and culinary arts and cosmetology centers.

“It’s the coolest facility because kids are working with tools and making things,” KHSD Public Information Officer Lisa Krch said. “I didn't have the opportunity to learn something in high school that could turn into a career and these kids have that opportunity.”

A Career and Technical Education Incentive Grant worth $5.8 million would allow KHSD to expand its course offerings to include vocational training in the areas of dental assistance, veterinary science, pharmacy and X-ray technician work, forensic science and robotics engineering.

Even if the bond doesn’t pass, the district seems committed to constructing at least one of those $60 million training centers in the southwest, Cole said.

Cole described the district’s current situation as a “bottleneck,” with 37,000 students clamoring to get one of the 1,000 spots in the Regional Occupational Center program.

“We've been missing this in California and especially in Kern County,” he said. “We have a need for this and when you talk to community people they're screaming, 'You need to train your kids,' so we're finally getting to the point where we can do it.”

After members of the aquatics community complained of a lack of pools in the high school system, district trustees committed to using bond funds to construct two. The district doesn’t have a single pool; aquatics teams bus to community pools.

District officials are considering building the pools near Martin Luther King Jr. Park in the east and Independence High School in the west, Cole said.

BOND FINANCING

The Kern High School District has gone out of its way to present voters a whittled-down, very specific list of projects, Cole said: “I'm very uncomfortable saying 'give us a couple hundred million and we'll figure out what we want to do with it later.’”

Another reason the district has split up its bond request into two elections, he said, is to pay down interest faster and save money.

By splitting up the projects over two elections and paying down bonds more quickly, taxpayers are paying roughly $115 million in interest — a savings of about $336 million, Cole said.

“We really believe we need to be fiscally responsible with the dollars from our taxpayers, and we understand we're asking our taxpayers to assist us,” Cole said.

Additionally, Cole said the district would apply for matching funds from Proposition 51, the $9 billion state school construction bond, if it passes this November.

When voters approved the district’s last bond, $190 million Measure N in 2004, the district found $119.5 million in state matching funds for construction.

The district has not identified any state matching funds right now, and would not likely find them if Proposition 51 fails.

WARREN HALL

Back at Warren Hall, one of the district’s oldest buildings, Colvard points out bundles of wiring zip-tied to exposed pipes, bathrooms that haven’t been worked on in 30 years and otherwise dingy conditions. Plumbing work keeps crews busy year-round, Miguel Vasquez, BHS head custodian, said.

“Every day it’s a hustle here,” Vasquez said.

Colvard also points out historical features that can’t be replaced. Things like the solid oak baseboards —- now well-worn with grease and grime — the original oak doors, and a flooring that Colvard calls “battleship linoleum.”

“It’s as thick as your finger,” he said.

Then there’s the brick facade that cascades up and down the entrance to the lecture hall.

The entire building was brick, Colvard said, until 1964 when state laws required the lecture hall be made earthquake-safe. Construction crews laid about a foot of gunite, a mixture of sand, cement and metal, across most of the building.

When crews remodel the building, they’ll work to preserve those historic touches, Colvard said. Those oak baseboards will stay, and the district is even trying to bring back that old brickwork — or at least the appearance of it.

Tearing down the gunite to the original facade would cost $40 million on its own, Colvard said, but crews will be laying a brick veneer atop it.

“We’re just putting it back the way it was,” Colvard said.

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