Schools eye $332 million in work
Spokane district to ask voters for capital funds in 09August 14th, 2008
Spokane Public Schools says it has drawn up a proposed $332 million budget for the next six-year phase of its long-term facility-improvement plan. Projects would include completion of the Ferris High School modernization project, major improvements to four elementary schools, and an addition to a middle school.
To pay for the projects, the district expects to ask voters here to approve a bond issue in February or March, says Mark Anderson, the districts associate superintendent for school support services. Proceeds from that bond issue, along with current reserves and investment income, would give the district $288 million in local funds to spend on facility improvements, Anderson says. The bond issue also would result in about $44 million in state matching dollars for the projects, whichcombined with local investmentswould cover the total estimated budget cost, he says.
The bond issue would maintain the $1.96 tax per $1,000 of assessed property value that voters approved in the districts 2003 bond issue for the first six-year phase of its 25-year facility-improvement plan, Anderson says.
For that phase, which included projects such as renovations at Rogers and Shadle Park high schools, the new gym at Ferris High School, and three new elementary school buildings, the district raised $165 million in local money and $67.5 million in state funds, he says. Those projects will benefit the communitys educational system in the long run, and in the short term also have benefited Spokanes economy by providing substantial numbers of construction-related jobs, he asserts.
The aim of the 25-year plan is to protect the communitys investment in schools by modernizing or replacing many of the school districts oldest buildings and extending the life of its other buildings through preventive maintenance.
The long-term plan seeks to stabilize school district facility-improvement funding by planning for projects in advance, rather than as needs arise.
The concept behind it is a responsible, methodical, steady-as-she-goes approach, Anderson says.
During the second phase, which will stretch from 2009 to 2015, the district plans to complete the Ferris High School modernization project at a cost of about $100 million, Anderson says. The district would put the project out to bid in 2011, and work likely would be completed in 2013, he says. NAC/Architecture Inc., of Spokane, developed the master plan for the project, he says.
The school districts proposed budget also includes $15.9 million to be spent on an addition to a middle school here, as well as on master planning for renovations at other middle schools that are to be included in the third phase of the long-term plan, he says. Anderson declines to disclose the names of the schools other than Ferris that are included in the list of planned projects until the plan has been reviewed by school administrators later this month.
The second phase also is to include major construction projects at four elementary schools at a total estimated cost of $104.2 million, says Kevin Morrison, technology specialist at the school district. Those four schools are an average of 81 years old, and some of them are considered historic so they would be modernized rather than replaced, Morrison says.
The school district also plans to upgrade the mechanical systems, roofing, and flooring at nine other elementary schools, at a total projected cost of $39.3 million, he says.
In addition it expects to perform select improvements at both a middle school and a high school, at a cost of a combined total of $3 million. The district also plans to improve the athletic fields of three high schools here at a combined cost of $5 million, he says.
In addition to major construction projects, the district plans to upgrade the technology systems at its schools, including updating the phone systems, installing classroom video projectors, and upgrading student and staff computers, at a cost of nearly $26 million, Morrison says.
The second phase is to include $2.5 million worth of safety and security upgrades, such as additional security cameras, he says. Routine maintenance projects at all of its schools, such as sidewalk and curb repair and boiler replacements and upgrades, also are to be included in the second phase, at a total estimated cost of $28 million, he says.
The district plans to set aside $8 million in contingency reserves for the second phase, Anderson says. Construction cost inflation posed significant challenges to completing all of the projects planned for the first phase, he says.
He attributes the school districts ability to stay on schedule during that phase to efficient construction management, an increase in the states matching funds, and higher-than-expected interest from bond sale proceeds before theyre spent, he says.
The average cost per square foot for new high school construction in Washington state rose to nearly $300 last year, up from about $150 in 2002, Anderson says. As a hypothetical example of the magnitude of that increase, he says that the Lewis & Clark High School modernization project would have cost $100 million to complete today, compared with the $35 million it cost in 1998.
Due to rising construction costs, school district officials have decided to cut out a high school project and a middle school project originally planned for the second phase to make sure that the tax rate for the bond issue wouldnt be higher than the rate voters passed in 2003, he says.
To decide which projects it would include in the second phase, the district hired Spokane-based ALSC Architects PS to assess building conditions at its schools according to a state-standardized system, Anderson says. ALSC completed that study last winter.
School officials also have talked with the districts maintenance and engineering staff people about building conditions, and have conducted site visits with staff members and students parents to get their feedback regarding facility and technology needs. In addition, Eastern Washington University conducted a student demographic study of the district, which it wrapped up in April. School officials also reviewed districtwide capital spending as far back as the 1970s, he says.
School district administrators are scheduled to review the budget plan on Aug. 20, Anderson says. School officials expect to present the plan to faculty and staff members in September or October. This fall, the district also plans to seek comments from the general public at community forums it will hold at several schools, he says.
A school board work session is scheduled for Nov. 19, during which officials will review community and staff comments and decide on the projects and the amount of the bond issue, he says.
At its meeting on Dec. 10, the school board is expected to adopt a bond measure and a three-year levy resolution for educational programs and activities, both of which would appear on the ballot. At that meeting, the board also is expected to set a date for the bond election, he says. State law requires 60 percent voter approval for a bond issue to pass.
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