Task Force Considers School Consolidation and New Construction Alternatives

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Thursday February 19, 2015

The city and school Master Planning and Visioning Task Force has been deeply ensconced in gathering information about school and city facilities and infrastructure since December. The thirteen-member team has been evaluating civic facility needs versus current resources, and examining city demographics, legislative initiatives, school enrollment trends, and the current configuration of the district’s schools, including factors such as location and consolidation. The task force will present their findings to the community this spring.

Their eighth meeting was held February 10, from 5-9 p.m. The fact that this was a four hour meeting is nothing new and in past meetings, the information being presented and discussed was so richly nuanced that agenda items were often shifted to the next meeting. In in an effort to manage their time more efficiently, task force chair Art Klugo suggested placing two large sheets of paper on a nearby wall; one for FAQs and another designated as a “parking lot.” The members agreed that questions or concerns that were off topic during the evening would be announced to the group, then placed on one of the two lists. The strategy proved effective, as by evening’s end both sheets were full and the agenda had been completed by 9 p.m.

At the preceeding meeting, the task force grappled with narrowing the eighteen previously identified potential school configuration options down to four. The four options that emerged as contenders were the following:

Option 1: 2 elementary schools (1 new, 1 existing) K-4 or K-5 with 1 middle and 1 high school.
Option 2 consists of 2 elementary schools (1 new, 1 existing) with K-2 and 3-5 or 3-4 with 1 middle and 1 high school.
Option 3 consists of 1 new elementary school as a K-4 or K-5 with 1 middle and 1 high school.
Option 4 consists of 1 elementary school in the high school with 1 middle school and 1 high school (new build).

The next step toward evaluating these options involved reviewing a cost bar for each. This became the primary focus of the meeting as both Dore and Whittier architects and the school district presented their projected costs and savings.

Cost Estimates

Lee Dore presented an extremely detailed spreadsheet which showed options cost estimates and a scheduling plan for the four agreed upon options, as well as a fifth which represented all schools remaining in their current configurations. Dore considered enrollment, existing square footage, new square footage, construction cost, project cost, project cost percentage over baseline (current configuration of schools), construction schedule duration, and the premium cost to vacate Central School early.

Dore went through each item line by line and outlined thirteen assumptions, some of which included swing space for approximately 250 students in portable classrooms and 100 students absorbed into excess space available at Chamberlin and Orchard schools, an approximate design time schedule of 9-12 months, and construction costs that represent 2015 market conditions for public school construction. Dore did not include any land acquisition costs in his estimates. He broke down the figures into K-5 subtotals for each option category and K-12 totals. The total K-12 estimates ranged from the baseline option ($38,062,735 million) to $99,507,427 million for the new high school option.

While the numbers were staggering, Klugo said, “Our obligation is to present the opportunities (to the community), not just the costs. These are investments and we need to talk about them that way...if we don’t, we’re dead on arrival.”

School Expenses

School District Business Manager John Stewart provided an overview of school expenses. Stewart covered bonded debt, estimated savings in personnel resources from elementary consolidation, facility stewardship projected costs at the elementary schools FY 2016-FY 2024, utilities, and estimated utility savings. For the purpose of the February 10 meeting, Stewart focused solely on the elementary schools.

Under the current elementary school configuration there are 82.50 personnel which includes administrators, teachers, administrative support, custodial help, library personnel, health services, guidance, and bus drivers. From a personnel savings perspective, if reconfiguration resulted in a total of two elementary schools (Orchard and one new school), the district would reduce personnel by 5.5 positions; the total estimated savings of these personnel changes would be $358,659. With a reconfiguration to a new single consolidated elementary school, there would be 9.50 personnel positions reduced, with related savings of $601,793.

Facility stewardship projected costs at the elementary schools were also presented, as these will be a key factor in determining whether to upgrade existing, fifty year old facilities, or build new construction. Between FY 2016 and FY 2024, including the three elementary schools, it is projected that $667,088 of facility improvements will be required. Some of the major expenses include a new roof at Orchard and a new boiler at Chamberlin.

Finally, Stewart talked utilities. Utility costs are calculated by a rate/square foot equation. The current figures were calculated at a rate of $1.2691 per square foot. The total square footage of all three elementary schools is 167,440 sq. ft. which results in a total FY 2016 utility cost of $212,500. With the two elementary school option (Orchard and 1 new K-5), the utility cost savings would be $42,906. With one new consolidated elementary school K-5, the cost savings would be $66,630. However, Stewart added that his estimates were conservative and that cost savings might equate to 20 percent more that his figures.

Stewart’s presentation generated questions that were added to the task force’s “parking lot.” Some members wondered if there were any stewardship costs that could be deferred and others wanted to see 2024 student population projections tied into the figures since Stewart used current population to calculate his numbers.

The City’s Perspective

City Manager Kevin Dorn gave a brief presentation on the city’s view of possible uses for elementary school buildings that might be vacated for newly built facilities. Dorn’s primary thought was to repurpose for neighborhood recreation centers. He cited the lack of space for current programming, especially for seniors. As an example of what re-purposing could look like, Dorn pointed to the City of Burlington’s Miller Center, located on the corner of Pine Street and Lakeside Avenue. This hub of activity used to be an armory, and after a $900,000 investment, there is are 7,000 people in attendance monthly for a variety of programs. “This isn’t direct apples to apples, but it’s pretty close to what we would want between two schools,” Dorn said, “Two smaller centers could offer attributes that we would value more than one large center. We could lease space, host neighborhood activities, pre-school, after school programming, a center for adult learning, and/or senior programming.”

This led to a robust discussion about the mission of the task force and whether they were being charged with determining what to do with potentially empty school buildings. Dorn said he would work with Superintendent David Young to refine the charge of the task force since it has seemed to evolve over time. The idea initially was for the group to be a joint city/school task force, but the conversations have become heavily weighted toward school issues, although City Center and TIF timelines have been at the forefront of many minds.

Bruce Chattman, former district superintendent, added, “We can’t ignore the other schools and what happens to them...we can’t operate in isolation.”

What’s Next

At each meeting, the task force schedule is evaluated and tweaked based upon scheduling conflicts and most importantly, when information will be available for discussion. The updated meeting schedule is as follows: February 17, March 10, and March 19. The community meeting date is projected to occur in late March or early April, but has yet to be confirmed.

You can stay up to date on the task force’s work via www.sburl.com. Meeting minutes, agendas, and pertinent documents are posted weekly.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent