Built in 1923, Whittier Middle School has been a part of the Sioux Falls community for more than nine decades.
Now, there’s a new push to start figuring out what the future holds for the school. A portion of an upcoming $190 million bond election would go towards the preparing the land for a new Whittier building. That is if the bond passes on September 18.
Some 950 middle school students call Whittier home during the school year. Steven Fletcher lives around the corner. His daughter was a Whittier eighth grader last year, and his son is starting sixth grade at the neighborhood school this fall.
“I still can’t find my way around there,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher admits he struggles to navigate the aging facility and wonders what it’s like for his kids and their teachers. He says it’s time for a change.
“You can tell that it’s an old building that’s been added onto a number of times over the years,” Fletcher said.
Whittier Middle School has served students for more than 90 years. With it being that old, it’s not quite as efficient as it needs to be for today’s student.
The building has been added onto 12 times since 1923. Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Brian Maher says, on the inside, there are 18 different elevations.
“Now that doesn’t mean 18 stories. That means you go up a couple steps here and down a couple steps there. There are 18 different elevations. From an ADA standpoint, it’s an absolute nightmare,” Maher said.
While the bones are still in good shape, Maher says that the end could be near for the oldest building in the school district.
“What we’re really doing through this bond election is setting the stage for a new Whittier Middle School down the road,” Maher said.
$4.7 million of the proposed $190 million bond issue is earmarked for the preparation of a new building. The money would be used to buy properties around the existing school as they become available.
“If we would purchase those homes and demolish them, those are affordable homes in a community that’s starved for affordable housing,” Maher said.
Maher says in addition to building a new school in the same area in roughly 10 years, he would also like to look at ways to add back in some affordable housing. Fletcher thinks that would be nice but is in favor of whatever it takes to move forward.
“They’re going to have to do what they’re going to have to do in order to build it,” Fletcher said.
Maher says Whittier boasts an eclectic student body. According to its latest data profile, 41-percent of the students are white, 21-percent are black and 17-percent are Hispanic.
“It’s a mix demographically. It’s a mix socio-economically and it really is a building that brings in a lot of emotion. I mean that in a very positive way. A lot of emotion from our community. A lot of emotion from the alumni and a lot of emotion from those who are currently there. It certainly serves a huge purpose in our school district,” Maher said.
And that’s why keeping it in the same neighborhood is a goal for the superintendent and other district leaders.
“I think the big thing is we’re preparing for the future. The future would be a new middle school building on that site so that Whittier Middle School lives there for who knows, maybe another 100 years. Certainly for a good long time,” Maher said.
But first, the district needs funding to get the ball rolling.
The bond election is set for September 18.