A look at school facilities
The Washington Community School District and its patrons should feel good about the progress that has been made in facilities over the last four years. We have done a good job of getting the most out of our dollars without raising property taxes. I would like to highlight each of the buildings and talk about where we are, how the work that has been completed was funded, and what is left to do. You will see that we still have a few items left on our list, but we are in a good position compared to where we were a few years ago.
Stewart Elementary-We are very pleased with the geothermal update of the Stewart Elementary. The total cost of this renovation was just under $2 million. This included new doors, lights, windows and geo-thermal heating and cooling. The environment in the building is very nice and comfortable. $1 million of this project was funded through a state energy grant. There was also a sizable contribution from the Washington County Riverboat Association. The district’s contribution should be covered over a short payback period of time in energy savings. The Stewart building should be good for a considerable period of time with regular maintenance and upkeep. There are some roofing concerns that will need to be addressed and tuckpointing is also needed about every five years, but Stewart Elementary will be an excellent facility for an extended period of time.
Lincoln Elementary-Lincoln Elementary has had very few updates in the last four years. The facility is in good shape, but is included on the list of priorities. I would love to see us do the same thing for the Lincoln building as we did for Stewart. A geo-thermal update along with replacement of windows, lights and doors would put Lincoln in the position of being set for a long period of time. Since the square footage of this building is comparable to Stewart, you would have to anticipate a $2 million bill to do the same update. That would be very nice and something that I recommend in the near future. Unfortunately, those energy-efficiency grants are not available as well as state construction dollars that we used at the Middle School. We did install window air units in all the classrooms that did not have them previously and the Lincoln building does have a newer boiler that provides a comfortable environment for our students. I also have future concerns over roofing needs at Lincoln and it too will need to have tuckpointing addressed very soon as a part of regular maintenance.
Middle School-I am really happy that the middle school received a face lift over the last year. There were a lot of people who gave a lot of time working in the middle school this last summer to make it better for its new inhabitants. We also did very well in making dollars stretch to do some improvements in this building. Through an energy grant from the state, a generous donation from a patron and an Iowa Demonstration grant, we were able to do close to $1 million of improvements at a cost of less than $400,000 to the district. This included the installation of two new boilers, replacement and repair of controls in the classroom, replacement of all steam traps, a new hot water heater, removal of holding tank, replacement of several doors, installation of new lights throughout the facility and installation of a new electrical service that can better handle electrical capacity needs. A Riverboat grant provided us with media enabled classroom technology. We also have painted almost every classroom, replaced much of the flooring in the facility, remodeled a special education bathroom, completed tuckpointing improvements, installed window air in classrooms where air conditioning was needed, remodeled the kitchen area and repaired a roof. When you consider all those improvements, you have to feel good about what has been done. However, there still is much that could be done in this facility. I hope people realize that even with all these improvements, you are still probably looking at a facility that will either need to be replaced or will need a very large investment within the next 20 years. On the short term basis, this building will need continued work on the roof, more flooring, work in the hallways, and window coverings. I would also like to see us remove the portable classroom that houses our band and consider a multi-purpose kitchen/commons area with a band room addition.
High School-I cannot express how exciting the opening of the new high school has been in the school district. It is a beautiful facility. It is roomy and very comfortable. It addressed a need in this district that had been there for a very long time. The district has had to commit the majority of its local option sales tax dollars over a 20-year period of time to build this new $15 million facility. That does limit the district abilities to address other facility needs during that time. The new high school was built onto the previous junior high to make one facility. One of the negatives is the fact that the previous junior high was not able to be connected into the new geothermal system. The district bonded at capacity and could not afford to do this. As a result, there are some needs in the old junior high part of this facility. We have been notified that the boiler in that addition is on its last leg and possibly will not be certified beyond this winter. This becomes our most immediate facility need in the district. Do we look at a new dual boiler system? Should we look at a small bond issue to complete the geothermal, windows, lights and doors in the old junior high part of this facility? These will be questions the board will be addressing immediately. The roof is good, but tuckpointing needs on the old junior high addition will continue to be an ongoing expense and a part of regular maintenance.
Athletic Facilities & Auditorium-We do have external facilities that have to be considered. Our current athletic facilities in general are in excellent condition with a few exceptions. Case Field is in great shape as far as the facilities, but the field itself falls into a category of a wish-list item. Several districts our size have installed turf fields. The cost of this type of surface is very intimidating and probably prohibitive, but certainly the condition of the playing field is something that will need to be addressed. Our softball field is one of the best of its kind and something we should be proud of. The Boosters have also done a great job in raising funds and improving the conditions of the baseball field. It is also something to be proud of but is lacking adequate lights and will have to be addressed at some time. The new soccer field continues to be a struggle and not in the condition that we had hoped by this time. We are addressing the installation of an irrigation system for this field and the football field at this time.
In terms of the auditorium, I am kind of an outsider looking in. We have a terrific group outside of the school system that is advocating for a new auditorium and is recruiting support in the efforts. They are working with the Renaissance Group out of Des Moines that has completed a feasibility study. A campaign strategy is being developed and we are optimistic that a new auditorium could become a reality in the near future for the school district. I express my appreciation to the efforts being made on behalf of the school on this endeavor.
Summary-Facility upgrade and updates are a necessity for a school district. I would have to be honest in saying that there is history where the district probably didn’t commit the resources necessary for regular maintenance and updates for our facilities, but we are committed now to not make the same mistake in the future. We have made significant progress in meeting the goals that were developed about 10 years ago for the district. We are not there yet, but we have accomplished a significant portion of the plan and have done so without increasing facility taxes on our property tax levy. We also have reached our capacity in our ability to do this, as we have no more bonding capacity through the local option sales tax. Any significant work done in the next 20 years will have to be done through bond issue, grants or donations. We will continue to be diligent in finding grant funding sources, which have been so critical in work completed in the last few years. I do expect that we will be turning to the public for some help in the future, though the most significant expenses have already been addressed. A long-range plan for what we will do with the middle school building is something this district needs to consider. While the life of that building has been extended, hard decisions will need to be made within the next 20 years.