Archive for Monday, November 26, 2012

School improvement costs estimated at $85.4 million

November 26, 2012


The Lawrence school board is now weighing the idea of asking voters to approve upward of $85 million in a new bond issue, even though many openly admit they are pessimistic about the future of public school funding in Kansas.

The board received its first preliminary estimates Monday night of how large a bond issue it would need to upgrade all 14 elementary schools, enhance computer and audio-video technology throughout the district, and repair or replace mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment in all elementary, middle schools and high schools.

Consultants with the design firm Gould Evans and Associates said those items would come to about $85.4 million. That’s within the range that district officials have said is possible without requiring a tax increase and without having to ask the state of Kansas for permission to exceed the district’s cap on bonded indebtedness.

But other items that board members have talked about — such as providing new facility space for career and technical education, replacing older kitchen and food service equipment, and expanding Sunset Hill and Kennedy Schools, among other items — would take another $12.6 million.

That would bring the total bond issue to slightly more than $98 million.

“When I look at our situation between the budget, and also the bond issue, to me it’s all kind of one big block,” said board member Bob Byers. “Everyone is concerned about budgets statewide, and we’re at a time when we’re looking at going for a bond issue in the middle of a state financial crisis, possibly.”

Byers said later he was referring to the multibillion-dollar package of tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature approved earlier this year.

Supporters of that plan say they’re confident the tax cuts will spur economic growth in the state, which will at least partially offset the cost of the tax cuts.

But official revenue estimates project the changes will reduce state revenues by about $1 billion over the next fiscal year.

Brownback has vowed to “protect” education spending, but critics of the plan say that will be impossible, given that funding of public schools makes up about half of all state general fund spending.

Regardless of what happens with base state aid for schools, however, local districts have authority to levy separate taxes for bond and interest payments.

Still, some board members started expressing concern Monday night about the image of a district embarking on a large construction project at the same time it may also be forced to cut general operating budgets.

Board President Vanessa Sanburn said she shared Byers’ concern about future state funding for schools.

“Clearly, the tax cuts that were voted in the last legislative session will have ramifications for school district budgets, unless miracles happen like what the governor is projecting,” Sanburn said. “A lot of other people looking at the numbers don’t have high hopes for the job creation that’s going to spur the tax revenue to solve the budget deficit.”

Superintendent Rick Doll said the Lawrence district can afford to issue up to $110 million in new bonds without requiring a tax increase, largely because the district is retiring old bonds this year.

School board members have said their top priority is to improve facilities at the six older elementary schools in central and east Lawrence, to bring them up to standards comparable with the newer grade schools in west Lawrence.

The estimated cost for those six buildings — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — comes to $47.5 million, or slightly more than half of the total base package.

Of those, Hillcrest School would be the most expensive, at an estimated $9.8 million.

A large part of the cost for those six schools would be new construction to provide additional classroom space, add gymnasiums or cafeterias, and replace “portable” buildings with permanent structures.

The architects estimated that those six schools combined require 107,327 square feet of additional space to bring them up to the same space standards as the district’s newer buildings.

Costs for renovations to the eight other elementary schools in the district were pegged at about $23.2 million.

The detailed report provided to the board was expected to be posted Tuesday on the district’s website.

The board plans to approve a final project scope and cost estimates by the first of the year, then vote to place a ballot issue on the April 2 ballot asking voters to approve a bond issue.


buffalo63 5 years, 1 month ago

One of the Board made a statement that I hope they follow through. When discussing the lack of public trust of funding previous bond issues, it was suggested they show how the money was spent on those bond issues. I would hope they show the actual and accurate expenditures. Then show how this bond issue is to be spent and then give accounting as it is spent. That would go a long way to begin to build trust.

question4u 5 years, 1 month ago

Right, because in fantasy land you never have to pay for anything. The "mechanical, electrical and plumbing" problems fix themselves, so the responsible thing to do is nothing. It's great advice for home care too. When your roof starts to leak just put some buckets on the floor. The problem will magically go away, and it won't cost you a dime. When the plumbing goes bad, you can use the backyard. Clearly, nothing ever has to be replaced or repaired.

deec 5 years, 1 month ago

Weren't a few of those schools built only about 15-20 years ago? Why do the mechanical systems already need replacing?

mcallaigh 5 years, 1 month ago

So if Architects work off a percentage of the job costs, and they are competitive open/public bid processes. Assuming they typically are required to take the low bid, what does it matter if the Architect's estimated budget number is high.

It's a budget - so it will be high, that's why its called a budget. I'm pretty sure Contractors are aware of this process.

Typical profit and overhead is 15%. If Contractors are making 30% profit, it not because the gov't is just giving it away, it's b/c there's not enough competition. Again, it's a public competitive bid.

repaste 5 years, 1 month ago

Consultants and architects will get 20%, $19,000,000? More? Anyone know answer?

Briseis 5 years, 1 month ago

lol..what place will this money put Lawrence in world education? New floors and walls equate to smarter children?

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 1 month ago

The $25M the city wants to spend chasing basketball tourneys would go a long ways towards fixing the schools.

Briseis 5 years, 1 month ago

Don't forget the filth that attracts the cockroaches. That should only cost some elbow grease to wipe up. Does the union use elbow grease?

Patricia Davis 5 years, 1 month ago

I will be saying no to every bond election for public schools until the schools admit criminal wrong doing for pay to play.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

I believe there's something called "theft by conversion", which refers to obtaining money for one purpose and then using it for something else.

Floating a "capital improvement" bond and then using funds from that to pay for new athletic fields might qualify.

buffalo63 5 years, 1 month ago

The other thing scary to me was Mr. Bradford stating that some public trust was built by the board "spending down" some of the reserves. No, the state insisted USD 497 had too much money in reserve and BY LAW had to spend it. He then stated the Board needs to plan to build the reserves up again. Does he not get it? Follow the law or change it, but in the mean time, tell us how the money will be spent and then spend, it IF you get it.

Joe Berns 5 years, 1 month ago

I went to the sunset hill meeting with the architects where they presented to the school parents their proposed changes. Almost every person was just eating up what the architects were saying. We needed more classroom size, even though we are seeing an overall decrease of students at SSHill, we needed this, we needed that, blah blah blah. My kids attend school there and love the experience. We don't need more room, that is a want and quite frankly, we just dont have the money right now. I think we could do with some improvements and get rid of the portables should be priority one, but we don't need more space per student and the teachers dont need dedicated offices either.

GardenMomma 5 years, 1 month ago

Actually, Sunset Hill's enrollment increased this year.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 1 month ago

I do have more faith in the current school board. They did say they would make a comprehensive list before deciding what to propose to the voters. The implication is that there would be some prioritizing. I have not checked the posted report. In previous posts, I was very critical of USD 497 and its diverted funds. This time, I have a more positive outlook. We should remain open minded. The past is past.

deec 5 years, 1 month ago

I may be remembering wrong, but don't they typically throw out some ridiculously large proposal initially just so they can cut it in half later and delude voters into thinking what a great deal they're getting? It's the old bait and switch.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 1 month ago

Kinda'. Usually, they start out with a dream plan, then cut back to something more realistic,

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

If this can be done without a tax increase it may fly.

Much of this work should have been done years ago. Some on previous boards managed to blow it off however these are taxpayers owned properties. I do not know how some previous board members felt it was their responsibility to ignore taxpayer owned properties. At the same time they were blowing off replacing the portable buildings that were always going to be replaced.

Not all previous BOE members supported the negligence approach. Obviously too many did. USD 497 taxpayers cannot afford negligent BOE members.

Frankly I would like to see a Douglas County Vo-Tech Campus in Lawrence to attract more students which is the bread and butter for Lawrence,Kansas.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 1 month ago

Easy to say, but VoTech is expensive. It's not a paper/pencil education.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

City Hall is the one blowing tax dollars at the speed of light instead of working at reducing our taxes. Lawrence does not need 65-90 million tax $$$$ spent on a new sewage treatment plant.

Lawrence does not need another 40-60 million $$$$$ spent on more athletic projects over and above the $20 million USD 497 spent.

Lawrence does not need too be handing out tax incentives to high dollar for profit ventures.

City Hall is talking another tax increase to fund the new sewage treatment plant "to plan for the future". There should not be another major run on homes for several years because jobs are not coming around. It will take longer than what city hall is thinking to get OUR economy back on track. What I hear is more foreclosures on are the horizon which is not a sign of a rebound.

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