School district eyes additions, repairs
By Heather McDonald
Each school building in the Stevens Point Area Public School District should have remodeling and additions in order to meet the educational needs of students, and all district facilities are in need of repairs or upgrades.
These are some of the findings of Nexus, the firm hired nearly two years ago to conduct a study of all 18 facilities in the district to determine programmatic and maintenance needs, as well as funding sources.
District administration unveiled the list, which includes more than 20 line items identified as deferred maintenance for each of the district’s 14 school buildings, over nearly three hours Monday, April 16, at a special school board meeting.
No action was taken, rather principals and administration walked School Board members through the summary of needs at each building. Board members asked questions, but no one spoke against the findings.
“The reality is, we as a district aren’t looking at potentially making these renovations because we have a huge population increase,” Board President Meg Erler said about halfway through the presentations.
“A lot of it is being driven by … enhancing academics, but it’s also that other piece about … mandates, requirements and expanded responsibilities school districts have today to provide special space, locations and support for students, particularly students who have special needs,” she said.
Generally, across the district at the elementary level, principals are asking for eight new kindergarten classrooms, four new kitchens and/or cafeterias, two new gymnasiums, two additional classrooms and creating space for special education needs throughout. There also are remodeling needs for office space, safer entryways, student drop-off and pick-up reconfigurations and additional parking.
At the junior highs, generally, principals’ identified space needs include a new gymnasium and fitness center, additional special education classrooms and lounge, new secure entry and a new commons area. Remodeling office space, one building’s cafeteria, library space and adding a study hall space also were included.
At Stevens Point Area Senior High School, administration is looking at a new commons/cafeteria area and addition of a two-court gymnasium, public restrooms and dedicated gymnastics space along with a tech ed expansion and office remodeling and reconfiguring the parking lot area.
Each school building also came with a list – between 10 and 43 – of deferred maintenance items ranging from heating and ventilation repairs to lighting upgrades, from concrete issues to doorway accessibility, from carpet and tile replacement to asbestos abatement, from fire alarm notifications to toilet wall replacement, from painting to ceiling repairs.
Maintenance and space needs also were identified in the transportation facility, Bliss Educational Services Center, support services and technology facilities.
No dollar amounts were attached to any portion of the presentation. The board expects to hear those figures at its May board meeting.
Also in May, the district plans community group input, both via invite only and a public informational meeting.
The earliest the School Board would discuss next steps – including whether to pare down the list, identify its own priorities, and/or determine how to fund the needs – would be June.
Much of the information is not new. The district has conducted four different programmatic and facility studies over the past seven years. Like those studies, the Nexus probe concluded problem areas include bathrooms, dining areas, physical education space, athletic facilities and special education needs.
In addition, safety and security had concerns, including parent pick-up and drop-off areas, control and observation of those entering or leaving a school, out-of-date surveillance equipment, security camera coverage and underfunded technology.
Throughout April, administration held several meetings to present the information to staff, whom administrators said should know of the findings and comment on them first. Staff surveys were conducted after each meeting, officials said, but the results of those will come before the board at a later date in June. In general, however, staff seemed supportive, officials said.
Perhaps the most pressing component is the deferred maintenance issues, administration said. The board in December approved borrowing $26 million for maintenance projects that fall under Act 32’s energy efficiency rules, a tool that Governor Scott Walker line-item vetoed that same month. The school tax rate will not rise due to that borrowing, as the district has included about $1.5 million annually in its budget under that rule for similar projects, so over the course of the 20-year borrowing term, the district will be able to maintain that funding without impacting taxes.
But without that tool, the district’s remaining deferred maintenance still must be addressed. Administration already has cut down the deferred maintenance lists, including in each building only those identified as top priorities. Those items that fell to second or third priority in administration’s review will not be pursued at this point, Superintendent Craig Gerlach said.
“We haven’t funded technology and maintenance appropriately over the years, and there’s a reason: we don’t have the resources,” Gerlach told the Gazette. “We have been maintaining our buildings, and we’re doing a very good job with the resources we have, we just are to a point where we can’t put it off anymore with the amount that needs to be done.
“If you don’t have the resources, you either cut programs or you don’t do significant things and that’s either technology or maintenance,” he said.
The district has been cutting in areas throughout the district for nearly 10 years to a tune of about $90 million, Owens said, an average of more than $8 million annually since 2009, when the 2006 referendum to spend an average of $8.8 million over three years for operations and maintenance ended. The 2009 and 2010 referenda to continue the funding failed, and in 2010 alone, the district cut about $7 million from its budget, officials said.
If the district cannot find funding resources to address the needs, administration is at a point where programs and other areas will be significantly affected, Gerlach said.