COEUR d'ALENE - Walk into first-grade teacher Erin Lenz's classroom at Winton Elementary School and you'll see another door on the other side of the room, the only entrance to another classroom full of more first-graders, with their own teacher.
While Lenz is working with her 6- and 7-year-old students, kids from that other class have to pass through the rear of Lenz's classroom to use the restroom or go anywhere else in the 1925-era school house.
"You try to keep their attention, but they're waving because that's their best friend walking by while they're sitting right there," Lenz said. "It's really distracting."
That's just one of the building design flaws that is affecting learning for kids at Winton, one of five Coeur d'Alene schools targeted for major renovations should voters approve a $32.7 million dollar bond at the polls on Tuesday.
Winton and the other schools that will be remodeled should voters pass the bond - Borah, built in 1950; Bryan, built in 1962; Sorensen, built in 1957; and Canfield Middle School, built in 1975 - have other outdated structural details that affect the safety, security and health of kids spending their school days there.
Bryan Martin, the school district's director of maintenance, said one of the biggest problems is that classes are held in portables that sit outside the main school buildings at Winton, Borah, Bryan and Canfield. The bond funds will create additional classroom space within the buildings, and allow the district to remove the portables.
Lenz used to teach in the portables at Winton, where the older elementary students attend class.
"I had kids using the restroom and they had to go outside to go to the main building. That's a safety issue," Lenz said. "That shouldn't be happening in this day and age."
It also takes the teacher's focus away from teaching, she said.
Other structural issues at Winton affect students with disabilities. As it stands, a child in a wheelchair living near Winton would not be able to attend his or her neighborhood school. The building has stairs that make it impossible for a student with a wheelchair to go into the school through the front door and get downstairs to the cafeteria/gym. That student would have to go back outside through the front door, through the parking lot, around the building and in through the back door to have lunch.
"I hope it's not snowing or raining," Martin said.
When Winton was built, there was no need for technology, and there are no structural provisions for it, Martin said.
"We're always bringing in circuits where we can," he said.
The bond includes funding to upgrade the technology infrastructure at schools throughout the district, addressing cabling needs, updating switches, servers and wireless service.
The need for the renovations and upgrades is not because the buildings haven't been maintained, Martin said.
"They're not neglected at all ... the problem is we're trying to drive around a couple of Model A's," he said.
And that's expensive. Martin said that at Winton, Borah, Bryan and Sorensen the cost per child is one of the highest in the district, driven up by the labor hours put into maintaining the school and higher utility bills due to the age of the buildings.
The bond will not increase the tax rate for district property owners because it is replacing two tax items that are coming off the tax rolls this year. The owner of a $200,000 home (less the homeowner's exemption) will pay an estimated $49 annually for the proposed bond. This is the current amount taxpayers have been paying for the Lake City High School bond and the KTEC facilities levy, which are expiring. Should the bond fail at the polls, taxpayers will see their tax bills decrease accordingly.
The measure requires a supermajority - 66 2/3 percent of the votes cast on election day - to pass.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman said the changes that need to be made in the buildings can't be mitigated by maintenance. Critics have indicated the school district waited too long to address these facilities issues.
Bauman said the district's focus for years had to be on increasing enrollment, especially in the northwestern part of the district.
"We had to house kids, build new schools. Now, we've flattened out with our enrollment and the facilities challenges continue," Bauman said. "Interest rates are low, construction costs are low. We thought this was a good time. These buildings will last another 50-60 years."
The district expects to lock in an interest rate of 3 percent or lower. The bond, plus interest, will be paid off over a 13-year period.
Board chair Tom Hamilton said the trustees looked hard at the bond proposal before agreeing to it. They had to be convinced, he said, that this was cost-effective.
This is the first school construction bond or levy brought to voters by this slate of board members. Hamilton and Terri Seymour were elected in 2011, and the remaining three trustees were all appointed within the last few months.
"We're going to be responsible with the funds," Hamilton said.
A new policy was put in place last year to ensure that all bond funds go to the specific projects voters are told they will pay for.
Hamilton said the board has called for the district administration to put dollars into a rainy day fund to address maintenance and facility issues.
"There's not a lot of money for that, but the message to the superintendent is clear, that we can't keep going back to the taxpayers every time there's something wrong with a district building," Hamilton said.
Tuesday's ballot measure addresses the quality of the learning environment for many district students, he said.
"You walk into Atlas, and then you walk into Bryan, there's a huge difference," Hamilton said. "Our downtown schools should be the same as our other schools."