LOCAL NEWS
June 9, 2001
Susanna
Laurenti
Boca High science building
will stay
13-year-old structure in 'very good condition,'
says Crist

By Susanna Laurenti
STAFF WRITER slaurenti@bocanews.com

Boca Raton High School science teacher Patty Kirsch was frustrated this week to
learn she would be teaching in the same frigid, leaky classroom after the rest of
the campus is completely rebuilt over the next year.

"This is a complete disappointment," said Kirsch.

Along with others in Boca High's science department, Kirsch had fervently hoped
the school's 13-year-old science building would be torn down along with the rest
of the school for the long-anticipated school-replacement project.

But, because of a state regulation that says the building is too new to be
demolished, the round, concrete structure will stay in place, even as a brand-new,
state-of-the-art high school rises around it at 1501 N.W. 15th Court off Glades
Road.

That's what Education Commissioner Charlie Crist decided Wednesday. Crist's
deputy commissioner, Wayne Pierson, said in a letter to Palm Beach County
Schools Superintendent Art Johnson that the building "fulfills today's educational
programs without the need of modifications."

On Monday, Crist toured Boca High's science building with Johnson and other
local officials. Observers that day thought Crist seemed receptive to the concept of
tearing down the building.

Shortly after the meeting, in fact, School Board Member Susan Whelchel, who
once taught at Boca High, said she was "optimistic" that Crist would allow the
building to be torn down.

"We explained the importance from a safety, traffic, maintenance and community
standpoint," she said.

But on Thursday, Whelchel was angry.

"With all due respect to the state's formal regulations, we all felt that the case was
crystal clear. We explained why the removal of the building was necessary for us
to have the quality school we had hoped to have at Boca High," she said.

Critics of the existing building say the roof leaks and the air conditioning is
unreliable. They add that the structure's many "nooks and crannies" are security
risks, because students can hide in them.

Also, the old building will not aesthetically match the new school, which must be
built facing away from Glades Road to accommodate the science building. That
means visitors to the campus will have to pass classroom buildings to get to the
school's office, and administrators will not be able to easily monitor the football
field and student parking lot. Both issues are major concerns, say Boca High
officials.

Kirsch added that the building is too close to high-voltage power lines and
Interstate 95, as evinced by the fact that more than once, drivers whose cars
broke down have knocked on her classroom door for assistance.

"It's scary," she said.

Kirsch's husband, Andrew, is the co-chairman of Boca High's School Advisory
Committee. He said he intends to fight Crist's decision.

"We have to find out who has a friendly ear and who has the authority to overturn
this," he said.

But Whelchel doubted anyone could override Crist's judgment.

"We went all the way to the top," she said.

The school district will save about $1 million on the $41 million renovation project
by leaving the building intact. But many believe it will ultimately be more costly to
maintain the aging structure in the years to come.

Construction on the new Boca High is scheduled to start Dec. 1 and be completed by the fall of
2003.