Critics of the Jefferson County Public School’s $567 million bond measure on the November ballot say the improvements to laid out in the capital improvement plan are unclear, not fair to all …
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Critics of the Jefferson County Public School’s $567 million bond measure on the November ballot say the improvements to laid out in the capital improvement plan are unclear, not fair to all schools and won’t do enough to bring schools into good-standing condition.
Though no formal opposition committee has filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office to oppose 5A and 5B, Jeffco’s mill levy override and bond, that doesn’t mean the measures have not been without critics. Among them, Jeffco Students First Action, a 501c4 public education advocate group, has officially come out against both 5A and 5B.
The bond — a financial mechanism to pay for building construction, renovations and capital improvements — is the fifth proposed by Jeffco schools since 2004 and focuses on bringing outdated district buildings up to structural and educational standards, addressing continuing population growth and improving safety and security for students.
As the second largest school district in Colorado, Jeffco has 155 school buildings that average 50 years old. According to the district, the bond is designed to touch all of those schools with improvements.
But South Jeffco parent Leonor Lucero said she can’t justify supporting the tax ask for “landscaping and lightbulbs,” which is what she sees as the bulk on the bond.
Most of schools are slated for a replacement of interior lighting with LEDs, and about 20 schools would get landscaping and athletic field improvements. However Tammy Schiff, chief communications officer for Jeffco Public Schools, said the notion that the majority of the bond is going toward “landscaping and lightbulbs” is fundamentally untrue.
“In an environment where maintenance and operations expenses continue to climb, but budgets are flat it is appropriate to look at ways to reduce both utility costs and maintenance expense,” Schiff said. “Reviewing exterior areas to determine if irrigation is necessary and if removing or reducing irrigated areas will not negatively impact the site while saving a substantial amount on water — we believe this to be an appropriate expense.”
The same, she said, with converting lighting, which is expected to bring a savings of $1 million per year to the district.
“There is a real savings in using less electricity due to LED efficiency and a reduction in maintenance expense because of the extended life-cycle of these bulbs,” Schiff continued. “The cost of this work is a fraction of the bond.”
New schools and additions
Big ticket items on the list are new school builds and additions.
Twenty-three building additions are planned for schools if the bond measure passes. This includes new classrooms at the elementary and middle school level and new program spaces at high schools including space for theater and music programs, athletics, science class rooms and career/tech education.
One example of this is Pomona High in Arvada, which was built in 1973 and is slated for $12.8 million in needs. Included in that is additional space for the Pomona Arts and Humanities program.
The additions for classrooms are proposed in areas where schools are full, and using modular buildings.
“Where additions are proposed it is because projections indicate the schools will remain over-enrolled and permanent square footage is warranted,” Schiff said.
Foster Elementary in Arvada was built in 1953, and has a “poor” facilities index. It is slated for a facility expansion, remodel and the removal of modular buildings. The $5.9 million in upgrades also includes security upgrades, updates to old electrical wiring and panels and increase; old heating and cooling equipment; and plumbing fixtures and piping. Old playground equipment, carpet, floor tile, warn roofing and ceilings would also be replaced.
The 2018 bond includes six new school builds. Three schools would be completely replaced with new buildings on the same site — Prospect Valley Elementary in Wheat Ridge, Kendrick Lakes Elementary in Lakewood and Marshdale Elementary in Conifer. The other three are brand new schools — two to accommodate growth in West Lakewood and Leyden Rock and a Warren Tech South campus, which would provide the district with additional career and technical education classrooms.
This decision is getting some criticism as Stober, Parr and Green Gables were slated for new schools during the 2016 bond proposal, but not this one.
Instead the three elementary schools will receive new roofs and upgrades that will move them from “poor” facility condition ratings to “fair” ratings.
Tim Reed, executive director of facilities and construction for Jeffco schools, said the conversations on which schools would get a rebuild was long and tough. Quality of the current site and if it would support building a new school while keeping the other still operational was a big factor.
Bringing schools out of the red
Updates through the capital improvement plan will move 37 schools out of “poor” facility condition ratings.
Three schools, Little Elementary in Arvada, Van Arsdale Elementary in Arvada and Ryan Elementary in Westminster, will move from “poor” to “good” ratings with a combined expense of $9.3 million in work. An additional 47 schools will move from “fair” to “good” and 33 facilities will maintain a “fair” rating.
According to district data, the only school which will still have a “poor” rating after the improvements is Vivian Elementary in Wheat Ridge, which is currently rated as the facility in the worst condition. With the $1.58 million slated to go to Vivian — built in 1953 — the school will improve its rating by about 20 percent with updates to old electrical wiring; old heating and cooling equipment; plumbing fixtures and piping; and replacements of old sink cabinets; overhead shelving and bookcases; interior lighting; and old carpet and floor tile. But this isn’t enough to give to a “fair” rating.
Critics of the bond say this is unfair.
“Why will Vivian Elementary still be left in the lowest condition when other schools that are already in the green are getting investments,” Laura Boggs, outspoken critic of the tax measures, asked.
Boggs is referring to the 13 schools with facilities in “good” or green standings that will be receiving money in this plan. Eight of those are under $2 million. However, Ralston Valley High in Arvada is slated to receive $9.3 million in improvements — the most in that batch of schools. The bulk of that will be for a facility addition, interior remodel and renovation for programs. Additions at Evergreen Middle, Lakewood High, Three Creeks K-8 and Wayne Carle Middle also bring up the dollar amounts associated with these “good condition” schools.
Schiff says the improvements are about more than just the facility condition rating.
“The work on older schools will make a big difference in student and staff environment, but the buildings will never be new again,” Schiff said. “There is a finite amount of resources, and some of the improvements in the plan make more a positive impact than the building condition reflects. Again, the goal was to use resources responsibly and provide all our schools some benefit.”
Six year plan
Projects listed within the bond package total $705 million, more than the $567 million bond ask, which also raised concerns with citizens who wondering what won’t be funded.
Lucero said when she’s asked questions of the district about what will be completed and what won’t she didn’t get an answer.
“I can’t support something when you don’t know what’s going to be done,” she said.
But Schiff said the project list is a capital improvement plan that will extend over six years and is the jumping off point to get big projects in the district completed.
“Without the bond money, none of the new construction or major renovations will be accomplished in the near term,” Schiff said. “We will be at status quo using the capital transfer money for maintenance and smaller renovation projects just as we have been doing for the past years.”
According to the district, there are items built into the projected cost of improvements that are not an appropriate use of the bond money. Therefore, items with a life expectancy of less than 20 years — the life of the bond — will be paid for by capital transfer, which if over $500,000 will need to be approved by future school board votes. Furnishings, some technology and parking lots are examples of these types of improvements.
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