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Elementary schools deferred maintenance until high school bond paid

John M. Steiner / The Sun Children play Wednesday on playground equipment at McElroy Park in Jamestown.

Voters in the Jamestown Public School District will decide a $19 million bond referendum at a special election on Sept. 29.

The funding would be used for projects at Jamestown elementary and middle schools. The projects are about upgrading aging buildings and to accommodate projected student population growth in the elementary school grades over five years, according to Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Robert Lech. The projected cost of this proposal is $18.62 million and not to exceed $19 million in contingencies.

Once the first phase is completed a second phase would be considered if K-5 enrollment exceeded the 1,080 capacity projected in the first phase, Lech said. If so, the second phase would include a Gussner Elementary expansion to accommodate 360 students, along with renovations to Roosevelt and Lincoln elementary schools, totaling approximately $13 million.

The phased approach was the decision of the Jamestown Public School Board and the administration to avoid a one-time project that could range from $24 million to $35 million, he said. A project that met the most immediate needs with the most limited new tax impact as possible was the goal.

"The district believes that this project addresses the priorities that must be completed now," Lech said.

School Board President Roger Haut said there is always discussion among board members and they do not want to place an undue burden on taxpayers. The process involves discussion about being good stewards of the money and that it is necessary to be certain the board is making the correct decision.

"I would say it is a need," Haut said about the school renovations. "From the time when some of these repairs were coming forward, I would say it's pretty much a need to get some of these situations up to standards."

Christopher Gibbs, principal of DLR Group, the firm that conducted the facility study and created the proposals, said if the referendum is approved, planning for the project would begin as soon as possible with a completion goal of August 2017.

All of the schools involved will add cooling systems, improve existing ventilation and catch up on long-term maintenance issues. After that each school project varies in detail.

The Louis L'Amour Elementary School project would total $10.2 million. It includes a major addition to triple the size of the school with renovations to the older section to allow increased student capacity from 125 to 360 students.

"Additions will include classrooms, flexible learning spaces, small group spaces, music, art and a media center," Gibbs said. "Renovations will include flexible learning spaces, small group spaces and other upgrades."

Roosevelt Elementary School renovations total $1.8 million, Gussner Elementary School $1.9 million and Lincoln Elementary School $1.7 million. They each include renovations with up to three flexible learning spaces and small group rooms.

Flexible learning spaces provide staff and students the ability to collaborate through hands-on learning, Gibbs said. It is interactive space outside the classrooms that can enhance learning experience.

Jamestown Middle School will receive $3 million in cooling and ventilation system improvements throughout the building.

No work will be completed during this phase to Jamestown High School, James Valley Career and Technology Center or Jamestown North Alternative High School. These schools are included in the long-term master facility plan.

"In regards to the next steps of the plan, we have a number of options that can be implemented by the district depending on exact enrollment increases," Gibbs said. "The current phase will meet the needs for a number of years and the district is choosing a wait-and-see attitude on additional enrollment growth."

The projected 80 new students in the elementary schools are attributed to a demographic study that looked at economic changes to estimate new community growth and the resulting enrollment, Lech said. Building capacity and school boundaries were other factors.

With the growth occurring in the elementary grades, the middle school and high school grades are not expected to realize growth, Lech said. The middle school and high school would not likely need a renovation until these elementary students begin reaching upper grades in 2019.

The current high school bond which was paid off in August meant deferring maintenance whenever possible, Lech said. By 2015 there was $44.9 million in deferred maintenance throughout the district.

The elementary schools alone account for $23 million, along with $13.2 million for Jamestown Middle School, $2.9 million for Jamestown High School and $5.8 million at Jamestown North and the James Valley Career and Technology Center.

While Washington Elementary was targeted with $5.3 million in deferred maintenance and is consistent with the other schools, it was slated for closing because age and structural limitations make renovation costs prohibitive, he said.

"The deferred maintenance, along with the facility limitations, made Washington the candidate for decommissioning," Lech said.

The closing would alter school boundaries in the district and an enrollment study would determine student placement by neighborhood growth calculations and school capacity, Lech said.

In the short term, Washington Elementary would remain ready to address unanticipated overflow. It would function as administrative space and an after-school program.

"Greater discussions still need to be held on Washington Elementary in the long term, however, as it is no longer as effective as an educational setting," Lech said.

Closing Washington Elementary would not mean that Ernie Gates Field would close as a football facility, he added.

The initial levy of 25.11 mills would be applied to the district's projected taxable valuation of $58 million. A 25.11 mill levy is based on continuing the paid high school bond levy of 21.4 mills and increasing that amount by 3.71 mills to result in an increase of $16.70 per year on a home valued at $100,000.

"It is important to note that as taxable valuation grows, the 25.11 mill levy will decrease to match the bond payment," Lech said. "The 25.11 mills represents the present mill levy and does not account for an increasing taxable value."