By John L. Braese
VALE – Time has run out for the building housing Vale Middle School – again.
Built in 1936, authorities closed the building in 1954 for safety concerns.
Two years later, the Malheur County officials used it one year as a courthouse before it was condemned. More than a decade later, school officials installed major upgrades and it opened again, this time as Vale Middle School.
Now, the building is again showing its age, heading for retirement after voters recently approved an $8 million bond to build a replacement school.
But that retirement is two years away, leaving school officials keeping a sharp eye out for maintenance problems meantime.
“We still have to maintain the safety of our kids and provide a good learning environment,” said Principal Jeri Schaffeld.
The principal won’t meantime see any upgrades such as alarm or sprinkler systems that the bond will buy at other schools.
“We will do what we need to do for the health of the students, but we are not planning any major projects,” Schaffeld said.
Meantime, Schaffeld and others will start planning the new school, to be adjacent to Vale High School.
Imagine the task facing them. There will be endless meetings for everything from reviewing construction blueprints to picking color schemes.
While playing the waiting game for the new school, Schaffeld worries about a crisis like the one recently faced. A sewer line broke inside a wall, sending raw sewage cascading into a classroom and down a hallway. Due to staff being in the building, damage was held to a minimum. A minimum means walls of the classroom were replaced along with flooring in the room and hallway, an unanticipated expense.
“The line broke due to age,” said Schaffeld. “We are constantly working on the building to keep it going.”
While pipes and wires can be fixed for the short term, other items are not as easily remedied. Walls in the locker rooms continue to bulge inward because interior walls are not attached to the exterior of the building.
“We have been dealing with this for years,” Schaffeld said. “We monitor the situation to see how much worse the problem is getting. As the tiles break off the wall, they are replaced,” Schaffeld said.
“I worry about a large amount of snow or rain this winter and then the bottom floor flooding,” said Schaffeld. “It has happened in the past. Besides the damage to the building, we could lose equipment we don’t have the money to replace. A flood in the bottom of the building could wipe out all our Ipads and that scares me.”
In the interim, Schaffeld and the staff will continue to monitor the cracks in the wall, the bulging floor tiles and the light fixtures with ever widening gaps. While no extra inspections are scheduled, staff will monitor and keep Schaffeld updated.
“I was so happy to see the community supportive of each other,” Schaffeld said of the bond passage.