RIPON — Amy Carter is an accidental Dr. Doolittle.
The principal of Colony Oak School deals with a menagerie of critters from woodpeckers to skunks.
The animals nest in nooks and crannies throughout the 22-year-old Murphy Road elementary campus that was only intended to be used for about two decades. It was put in place in 1990 to handle a surge in Ripon Unified elementary students.
There is nothing, however, playful about the guests.
“You can hear the woodpecker in my office and in the fourth grade classroom,” Carter said as she pointed Monday to one nest beneath a classroom eave that a custodian has tried to block from returning woodpeckers when spring arrives in four months.
Try as they may, the woodpeckers get back into old nests that riddle the portable buildings. While they can be annoying they aren’t nearly as bad when skunks crawl under classrooms and get spooked.
Dealing with woodpeckers and skunks might have its charms if it wasn’t for the fact the aging portables designed for a 20-year life are literally falling apart.
The $25.2 million Ripon Unified Measure G bond issue on the Nov. 6 ballot would replace portable classrooms that have been used long past their life expectancy at both the Colony Oak and Weston elementary school campuses. It also would address other needs such as providing adequate space for libraries and computer labs. The measure also would allow the district to finish paying for the Clinton South parcel that houses the Ripon High school farm and is the site for a future high school.
The bonds would cost the owners of a $250,000 home $20.63 a year or $8.25 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The woodpeckers - which can’t be killed - aren’t nearly annoying when compared to day-to-day deficiencies that the Colony Oak staff and students have to deal with.
A long list of building concerns
• Portable classrooms that have settled over time have pushed plywood floors upward splitting carpet at the seams creating tripping hazards. The carpet - 22 years old and counting - is put back together using hot glue with more dangerous sections covered with desks.
• Door jams over the years have worked their way apart from the walls prompting maintenance crews to “plug” the open gaps.
• There are inadequate electrical outlets since the portables were put in place long before technology changed the classroom. In some instances, teachers have gotten creative duct taping state-approved extension cords to the ceiling to bring power to a needed location for a classroom computer.
• When it rains, the bucket brigade is pressed into action to catch water that drips down on tables and elsewhere on the floor creating a safety hazard.
• The pressed board walls are deteriorating in almost every classroom creating visible holes and tears. Due to the design of the portables, when shelves and coat racks start to work their way off the walls there is no way that can be re-attached due to the condition of the pressed board.
• Portable bathrooms have uneven floors, missing privacy boards between urinals that can’t be replaced due to the condition of walls, and issues with draining. One of the boys’ bathrooms, when urinals overflows is a challenge to clean since the floor has settled in such a manner that the drain is at the high point.
• The library - essentially a converted classroom - is dubbed “the bookmobile” by Carter due to the tight quarters that make it impossible for more than one class to use it at a time.
• Unlike permanent schools such as Park View there is no computer lab at Colony Oak.
• Ceiling tiles with water stains are the norm.
• Mold issues that were addressed a decade ago are always a concern in the back of administrators’ minds given the construction of the classrooms.
• The parking lot design is a nightmare given that 100 percent of the students either ride the bus or are driven to school.
• The outside walls show extensive signs of wear having taken a beating from the elements for 22 wet winters and 22 baking summers.
Ripon Unified Superintendent Louise Johnson noted that the conditions - while they are what you expect on portables two years older than their design life - could be a lot worse.
“I can’t say enough about the job our maintenance and custodian people do,” Johnson said.
Even so she understands there is only so much you can do with duct tape, buckets and other improvisations.
Making it worse are the maintenance and energy costs that keep climbing each year increasing the drain on the general fund that is used to hire teachers and provide support staff and other services.
It is why school board member Kit Oase - who has volunteered to serve as chairman of the citizens’ effort to get Measure G passed - points out it is financially prudent to replace the portables in addition to the need to deal with health and safety issues.