School options detailed
The Weatherly Area school board hosted representatives from EI Associates and PFM Financial Advisors to answer questions about a possible $10 million school renovation and switching buildings for elementary and high school students.
The option, which includes switching students, would cost $10.75 million.
“The options that we have determined must be done, due to safety concerns, ADA and code compliance, have an estimated cost of $8,311,738,” school board member Matthew vonFrisch said.
He said the board is dropping the proposed track for $1 million, along with adding two classrooms to the high school, replacing all exterior doors at both schools and replacing the high school plumbing to low flow.
“These items are not being considered,” he said.
The $8 million renovation project would include items such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical work and getting the elementary/middle school up to ADA Code compliance. The high school would need a new oil tank, HVAC, electrical work, ADA code compliance and a garage. The $8 million estimate does not include security upgrades or switching students.
A $10.06 million plan was also presented, with work on both buildings to include electrical work, plumbing, security up grades, ADA code compliance and a garage for the high school.
The $10.75 million option would include all the updates required but switching buildings for elementary students and high school students.
EI conducted a study of both buildings over the summer months. The board received a list of priorities and prices in August.
“The elementary school was built in 1960 with the last interior work done in 1990. The middle school was built in 1976. It’s almost as old as I am,” he said.
Additional classrooms were added in 1991.
The atrium in the elementary school near the back of the elementary needs work, vonFrisch said.
“The units are leaning and holding water. There are mold concerns,” he said.
The cost for replacing the windows, metal roof and ceiling will cost up to $68,000.
According to vonFrisch, the gym floor in the elementary building is salvageable.
“It’s only temporarily patched right now, but there is water damage and termite damage,” he said.
The wood of the floor is still good, vonFrisch said, but was covered with thick layers of locker leading to the trapped moisture that caused ripples in the floor. The floors would have to be stripped and sanded but not replaced all together.
The other big-ticket item is replacing the bleachers.
“We will replace the old bleachers and install plastic telescoping nonmotorized bleachers with ADA-compliant seating,” he said.
He informed the public the school is currently facing litigation over an injury suffered by an attendee from the bleachers.
The cost for new bleachers is estimated at $200,000.
Heating, plumbing and electrical updates are drastically needed in both buildings whether or not the schools swap, according to the board.
Superintendent Teresa Young addressed the crowd to speak of the advantages of switching schools saying, “The smaller classrooms are better for younger students. Size of rooms and core areas are more appropriate and typical for elementary schools of similar size and capacity, it’s a more securable building,” she said.
She compared the square footage of the basic amenities for each building to illustrate her point, with most rooms being larger in the current elementary school versus the high school.
The new school layout and slides from the presentation will be made available on the school’s website, she said.
The district intends to pay for one of the three construction options by increasing taxes over a three- or four-year period.
“The district intends to raise taxes by a total of 3.31 mills over the period. One mill generates approximately $138,000,” she said.
With the updates to the electrical, water and sewer, the district estimates there will be roughly a 15 to 25 percent savings for each category in operational costs after renovations.
“I’ve been on the board for four years, before that we were one of the only schools who didn’t raise taxes for seven years. The first year on the board I said we should raise taxes at least half a mill. In my opinion that’s how we got so far behind. That’s part of the reason why we are where we are today,” said vonFrisch.
“It’s all major repairs,” said board President Girard Fewins.
“We did our due diligence and looked at every line item and tried to do our best for Weatherly and taxpayers,” he said.
The board will vote in February on spending $10.7 million or $8.3 million, with the specifications and drawings being compiled to begin bidding projects out next winter. Projects could start in the 2019-20 school year.
Weatherly Mayor Tom Connors said he was concerned about the tax increase for residents.
“We have an elderly population on a fixed income,” he said.
“I hope they’ll make the right decision for students and taxpayers. It’s obvious upgrades need to be done. We have to remember we have a small community, small enrollment. I understand plumbing and electrical, but I haven’t heard anything about the kids. As a father of seven, that’s what I worry about, helping prepare them for college,” he said.
“It’s a good group, I’m glad the board held this. It’s a lot of information for people to absorb,” Connors said.
The board took questions from the residents for nearly two hours attempting to quell concerns.
Residents were concerned for the safety of their children and the increase in taxes.
“$10.7 million is the higher amount we are comfortable going to and that includes everything from the lockers to the electrical,” said vonFrisch.
Melissa Knepper, a school district teacher, Weatherly graduate and parent of a Weatherly student, told the board moving from the elementary/middle school to the high school was a rite of passage for students.
“It’s a really exciting time for them, they get to come over to this building and become separated from the middle school,” she said.
Susie Gerhard said, “Please keep in mind with changing the schools, a quality education does not come from bricks and mortar. It comes from the dedicated educators.”
Carbon County Commissioner and Weatherly resident Tom J. Gerhard asked the board to be “fiscally responsible and keep the aging population on fixed incomes in mind. I’m not in favor of the swap but I understand the upgrades,” he said.
The board will vote on the proposals at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 in the Middle School LGI Room.