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Jeffco schools identify $900 million in needed upgrades and repairs

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By Emile Hallez

Leaky roofs, boilers on the fritz and classrooms lacking smart boards amount to more than $900 million in repair and improvement needs throughout Jeffco Public Schools, a recently completed year-and-a-half long assessment shows.

Though the study identified about $575 million in repairs or replacements currently needed in the district’s buildings, a five-year maintenance forecast found an additional $342 million in anticipated needs.

More than $174 million, or about 19 percent, of the fixes fall into South Jeffco area schools, not including the relatively young D’Evelyn High School building, which at 10 years old could use about $3.4 million in work.

“We have an average building here that’s about 33 years old,” said Sam Wilson, president of Magellan Consulting, which worked on the assessment. “There’s a lot of the district’s inventory that’s in this range. … A lot of the systems in these buildings are reaching a point where they’re at the end of their life.”

Teams of contractors spent one to two days combing through each of 155 schools and 32 administrative and support buildings, taking note of needed repairs or improvements.

The total cost to replace all of the district’s 12 million square feet of infrastructure, in decent shape or otherwise, is estimated to be about $2.3 billion.

How the district will ultimately address the massive repair list is unclear. A similar assessment was completed in 2008, revealing approximately the same amount of deficiencies in buildings, the district said.

Repairs, upgrades and preventive maintenance are ongoing, and though the district has been able to keep the backlog of fixes from growing dramatically, funds to maintain that pace are anticipated to run out in coming years.

The assessment could be used to sway Jeffco voters to approve a tax increase, a move that failed in 2008.

“The numbers aren’t significantly different than they were then, which means we’re keeping pace,” school board President Dave Thomas said, comparing the new assessment to the previous evaluation. “At some point, we’re going to have to run a bond issue. … These will be growing needs, and our capital funds are diminishing.”

But board members said that gauging the public’s reaction to the information could be unpredictable. Dire needs, such failing heating systems and damaged roofs, could be viewed as unavoidable repairs, but equipping every classroom with the latest technology may not be perceived as a priority.

“If you don’t have food and shelter, you can’t go to the next level,” said board member Jane Barnes, putting the assessment’s findings in the context of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychology concept.

And during a recession, when government spending may extreme scrutiny, persuading voters of the necessity of classroom innovations could be a hard sell.

“I would see the public saying, ‘Make the buildings sound, and forget the rest of it,’ ” board member Paula Noonan said, referring to technology improvements.

The school district’s next step will likely be an analysis of how to optimally address the various buildings’ deficiencies. And part of the process may include compiling public input.

“It was a really rigorous process to go out to every facility and look at all the detail. … We have a very high degree of confidence in the information we have,” said Cheryl Humann, executive director of facilities planning and construction. “These aren’t solutions … Our next step is to develop options that address those various things.”

Among buildings to be examined are older facilities, some of which were designed to accommodate 250 students or fewer and are not considered efficient to operate. And certain schools, those needing improvements totaling at least two-thirds of the cost of a new structure, could be targeted for replacement.

“This is a culmination of about a year and half’s worth of work,” Humann said. “The process is very objective. We just go out and get facts. … It helps us focus where we spend our funds.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.