Saratoga High’s chilly, hot gym fixed after student prodding

Saratoga High’s chilly, hot gym fixed after student prodding

Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students who report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

Student athletes at Saratoga High School are cautiously celebrating a win after months of advocating to upgrade conditions of their gym that has suffered from sporadic lack of heat, air conditioning and air circulation for more than a decade.

Recently, the school district managed to modify the HVAC system to function better. As of December, the system finally provided heat for student athletes practicing during the winter.

In case the HVAC system were to break down again, the district has promised to provide portable heaters and evaporative coolers to maintain an acceptable temperature. But the school board declined to replace the HVAC system, since the estimate is more than the amount set aside for it in Measure E bonds that were passed in 2014.

In November, six months after junior varsity basketball player Adrienne Chung created a petition to bring attention to the issue, Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District officials answered ongoing complaints from students, parents, and coaches about the condition of the Saratoga High School gym.

Although the district’s recent decision to not replace the 50-year-old HVAC system was disappointing to some, students welcomed getting at least a temporary fix.

Jerry Sheehy, a coach for the junior varsity basketball team at Saratoga High School, said the old heating system has made conditions in the gym difficult for athletes and fans.

“We had administrators who came into our games with jackets on, like they were going skiing. You could see your breath within the gym,” he said, describing conditions during the winter. In the summer, he said, there was no system for cooling.

Basketball player Chung said many players were getting sick and hurt. “It’s easier to get injuries because it’s so cold,” she said.

“During the summer, it really decreases the energy of our playing because we have to move slower and take more frequent breaks,” said Riley Adler, a varsity basketball player. “Some girls are throwing up due to the heat. In the winter we had to speed up to get warm because if we didn’t start warming up right away, we would be sitting there in our sweatpants and our hoodies. It’s too cold.”

Adler said no one wants to play in the gym when conditions are uncomfortable.

Coaches said they wanted a better environment for their students and athletes and felt their frustration. Coaches contacted the district, but it took student and parent advocacy to finally get the issue addressed.

Coach Sheehy said, “Once the parents and students got involved, I think there was more of a response.”

In June, Chung created an online petition explaining the issue and asking for improvements. Chung said she was inspired by her history teacher, who had talked to students about the importance of making changes.

“I realized, oh, there is something I can do about this,” she said. “So I started the petition to make sure there was a place where people could get all their information from.”

The online petition site was convenient for students to share, and Chung could provide updates on board meetings easily. It was also a place where advocates could communicate with each other.

Mike Davey, varsity basketball coach at Saratoga High School, said the petition “created some movement within the students — to have a stake in the game, to speak at school board meetings, because it is kind of hard to get them motivated over the summer. We did have a  dozen kids each or maybe more during the July school board meetings.”

Several families and students from Saratoga High School showed up to the district’s board meetings to express their concerns about the gym.

On June 27, the board of trustees approved an investigation into the Saratoga High School gym’s heating, cooling and air ventilation for repairs, upgrades and replacement. The areas affected were the large gym, small gym, dance studio, and wrestling room, which are connected.

Tanya de la Cruz, Los Gatos-Saratoga Unified School District spokesperson, wrote in an email that district officials met with parents, students and staff. The district also hired a new maintenance and operations director, Toby Mockler.

“Toby joined the district in August and has been working behind the scenes to research, train and provide maintenance to the system, which is now working as designed,” De la Cruz wrote.

The district worked to understand the HVAC system, ensured it had staff to resolve the issues and convened many meetings to figure out a solution, she said.

De la Cruz said the district found that replacing the building’s HVAC system would cost approximately $3.5 million.

That was more than the district wanted to spend, so instead it decided to revamp the old system and develop contingency plans such as portable heaters in the winter and evaporative coolers in the summer in case components didn’t work.

“Superintendent Bill W. Sanderson is very pleased with the progress Toby has made to ensure that the heating/ventilation system is working properly,” De la Cruz said.

The issue is now on the district’s radar, she said, and students and families are receiving email updates from the superintendent.

Chung said she will continue to monitor progress. “We will be attending those board meetings when things are getting discussed and voted on to make sure things are happening.”

Yunery Ramon Reyes is a sophomore at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School.