JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time, News4Jax went inside one of Duval County's oldest public schools to get a better idea of why the school board is asking for a half-cent sales tax referendum to upgrade the county's aging schools.
Duval County Public Schools has provided footage showing the inside of some schools, but during a tour Wednesday, News4Jax saw firsthand what conditions are like inside 54-year-old Raines High School in Northwest Jacksonville. There are broken air-conditioning units and locker room showers that do not work.
Raines High School Assistant Principal Natasha Williams, who graduated from Raines in 1991, led the tour, showing the deteriorating conditions, which she calls safety hazards, that students learn in every day.
The first stop during the tour of Raines High, built in 1965, was the computer lab, which also serves as a testing room for all grade levels.
In the back corner of the computer lab, there was a fan, which is there because many times, the old air-conditioning unit on the other side of the classroom goes out. According to Williams, some days it works, other days it doesn't. So the fan helps the air circulate for the students when they're taking tests of those really hot summer days.
"The AC unit, it goes out. And when it goes out, it is extremely hot, so we have to try to put a fan in here to try and cool it off," Williams said. "This is a unit that was here when I graduated in '91."
Also, an issue in the classroom is the tile flooring, which is old and coming up. It's another area the students have to be careful around.
Unfortunately, the computer lab is not the only room at Raines that is in dire need of maintenance and upgrades. Williams took News4Jax to other areas of the school with potential safety concerns for students and faculty.
The next stop on the tour was a classroom for ninth- and 10th-grade geometry. Even though it is summertime, the classroom felt hot.
"It can be this degree and even hotter," Williams said.
In a dance room that has been converted to a math and English classroom, beams supporting the ceiling were bent in half and zip ties were holding them together.
"These are some of the things students have to try and maneuver around," Williams said.
There was also tape wrapped around electrical outlets to hold them in place and the ceiling was falling out.
Throughout the school, there are murals and inspirational quotes that were painted in recent years. The goal is to keep the students motivated and encouraged as they're walking through the hallways.
The tour ended in the locker rooms, where conditions are the same for both boys and girls. The showers are not in good shape and do not work inside both locker rooms.
"So this is the boys' locker room. As you can see, they don’t use the showers anymore," Williams said.
In each locker room, there is also an oddly placed door leading from the showers to outside.
"When the students are dressing back in, (we have) to make sure there’s no one coming in or trying to get into the doors for safety," Williams said. "That’s a priority."
The Raines High alumna added that the A/C is frequently out in the locker rooms, so there is no showering nor cooling off students after gym activities outside.
On Tuesday evening, the Duval County School Board approved the Master Facility Plan to repair or replace the county's aging school buildings. The plan, estimated to cost $1.9 billion, would be financed by revenue from a half-cent sales tax that needs Jacksonville City Council approval to get on the ballot and a majority of Duval County voters to support it.
The school district told News4Jax on Wednesday night that it's waiting for the new City Council to hold its first meetings later this month. The district said it's hopeful that the new City Council will approve the referendum to go to the voters as soon as possible.