Broken in the boys’ room

The two Chico High School student leaders taking time out for a quick campus tour seem embarrassed. It’s not so much that there’s a girl—me—in the boys’ bathroom. It’s that the bathrooms themselves are in such bad shape.

The stall doors latch poorly, if at all. Open one door and there’s a bare fixture where the toilet should be. Graffiti is scrawled carelessly across the walls and mirrors. “It’s just all pretty gross,” summed up Braden Boice, student body president at Chico High.

Boice and about a dozen classmates went to the March 22 Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting to say they’ve waited long enough to see the fruits of the 1998 school bond, which is supposed not only to pay for a new high school, but also allow $1.8 million to renovate Chico High’s 1943 gym and rundown restrooms.

The students, Boice said, liked the district’s early idea of leveraging the $700,000 the bond allocated to the gym project with state money to get a better gym worthy of “Panther Pride.”

But when students heard that the state funding was suddenly in limbo and the CUSD was thinking of waiting for a possible 2002 state bond to pass, it was the last straw.

At the board meeting, Mary Leary, director of maintenance and operations for the CUSD, explained that the initial delay was at the request of Chico High officials and teachers, who felt the bond money “really would not meet their needs or the expectations of the community.”

The district was confident it could secure a 4-to-1 match, raking in $5.9 million for the Chico High projects, Leary said. At any rate, the CUSD recently learned it could go ahead and start the work—perhaps borrowing from the bond money for the new high school—and, the district hopes, collect state money later. So, architectural plans were sent to the state and bids are expected to go out soon, Leary said.

Construction on the non-gym bathrooms, she said, should start in June. The gym work could get going as soon as August and be done in September 2002. The original project completion date was supposed to be fall 1999.

Even so, that won’t be soon enough for many of today’s Chico High students.

Steven Valentino, who recently ended his term as student representative to the school board, was in eighth grade when the bond passed; now he’s a junior. And, he confesses during the tour de toilettes, he was the guy who “was square dancing [in the gym] and a tile fell and hit me on the head.”

The smattering of broken windows doesn’t do much to let light into the dark gym, and Boice and Valentino explain the tricks of how to shove the bleachers back in—"that middle one’s a real stickler"—and play a volleyball strategically off the low rafters.

Boice, like many Chico High students and their parents who played in the gym before them, has a nostalgic fondness for the building, with all its quirks and squeaks. The outside of the gym looks nice, courtesy of a bond-funded paint job. Bouncing gently up and down to illustrate a warped area of the floorboards, Boice says, “I love it for all its little weird things.”

But now, Boice said, when Chico High administrators tell students at assemblies in the gym, as they have for years now, that the construction will start "this summer" or "this fall," the kids have trouble believing it.