Facing aging buildings, outdated technological infrastructure and failing equipment, the Greater Jasper School Corporation is seeking input on moving forward to ensure its facilities continue to provide a proper education environment.
Superintendent Dr. Tracy Lorey presented the results of a recently completed facility feasibility study to about 40 people who attended a public meeting Tuesday evening at the Jasper High School auditorium.
Each school building has its unique problems, said Lorey, while reminding the crowd that even the “new” middle school began construction in 2001, 16 years ago. While it and the high school need some updates, Fifth Street and Tenth Street elementary schools are the most problematic. Ireland has had issues but in recent years, the corporation has taken efforts to update the school and expand classrooms to deal with a burgeoning student population.
However, Fifth Street, built in 1970, and Tenth Street, built in 1960, have issues that are continual problems and a drain on the corporation’s funds. Leaky roofs, failing heating and air conditioning systems as well as non-compliance issues with things like ADA accessible entrances and safety concerns like unsecured entrances and student drop off that occurs on a public street are ongoing issues and concerns.
Lorey assured those at the meeting the corporation has been diligent in maintaining buildings and equipment as best it could. But as the equipment and building infrastructure (windows, electrical and plumbing) approach end of life or exceed it, the cost to for upkeep is increasing.
“We take really good care of what we have and we eek every bit of life out of every piece of equipment that we have because of our staff,” Lorey said. “So, our buildings are functioning. They may not be as efficient as we want them to be and we may be on the edge of a system going down forcing us to spend a large sum of money to keep them going, but our students are safe.”
A more detailed list of issues is included in the report completed by Gibraltar Design and the Stenftenagel Group attached below the story.
Lorey outlined how the corporation was forced to work under the lean conditions created by the nearly $81 million in lost assessed value of the corporation’s tax base that occurred in the 2008-09 recession. That lost assessed value has not recovered but is slowly increasing.
In 2012, the corporation began completing updates and major projects by alternating between its facilities. Then in 2014, a study revealed major issues with Ireland Elementary and the corporation began addressing those needs while working within its capital projects budget and a bond issue.
Meanwhile, through the years, the corporation’s debt service for the middle school and high school has continued to be paid down and as assessed value has recovered, the tax levy on residents has slowly lowered. By 2024, the current debt service will drop off considerably.
The corporation sees this as an opening to begin moving forward with addressing the future needs of the corporation.
During the meeting, Lorey introduced two paths with estimated price tags.
If the corporation updated all its concerns and issues with the existing facilities, the hard costs — construction and materials — are estimated to be $27,524,982; but this doesn’t include the soft costs. Soft costs include items like financial fees, legal fees, professional fees, project management fees, land surveys, loose education equipment and other related costs not directly related to putting bricks in place.
This cost does not address the continual flooding and drainage issues at Fifth and Tenth Street schools but would encompass most of the security, safety and environmental issues with the schools. Plus, the two elementary schools would require the vast majority of that amount to update and repair, an estimated $23,997,989 of the total listed above.
Another issue besides not addressing the flooding/drainage issues is that the construction would likely take much longer to complete due to the students being present in the schools. Plus, the construction would be a constant distraction for several years.
The second avenue discussed was to build a new combined elementary school on the 16-acre lot the corporation owns just north of the middle school. Creating this 750-student capacity elementary school along with the updates needed at the high school and middle school, including soft costs, brought the tab up to $30.5 million.
That bond could be issued in a way that the corporation would not have to increase its tax levy. See included presentation.
Lorey explained that the corporation had not made any decisions on how they were going to proceed and in the coming weeks would be seeking input from the parents and constituents in the community. The school board members in attendance reiterated this sentiment. Board member Ken Schnaus told those attending they wanted to hear from the public before making a decision.
Lorey explained that a survey would become available online within the next week so the school can receive public input.
She emphasized that as the corporation’s current debt service continued to drop, it was important to move forward with these projects to allow the tax levy on residents to remain steady while the corporation addresses its students’ needs.
“Good school financing ensures our taxpayers don’t see up and down tax rates; good budgeting sees a nice steady tax rate,” she said. “We have a window of opportunity to keep that tax rate nice and steady. We don’t want to create a situation for our taxpayers where the tax rate goes really low one year and then goes back really high.”
The corporation would like to be in a position to make a decision on a course of action before the end of 2017. After collecting input from the public for the next few months through the survey and public forums, proposals will be before the school board in September.
The attached presentation was what Dr. Lorey used to explain the issues the corporation is facing. It lists the overall condition of many portions of the corporation’s facilities and some specific issues that need to be addressed.