Summing up the district's thinking on the short-term facilities issues, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Al Inserra, said, "For the short-term, whenever possible we're trying to keep it simple." Dr. Inserra also emphasized that any final determination on short-term plans must be made within the context of the long-range facilities plan which should be sufficiently completed to make the short-term decisions by mid January, following the presentation of the recommendations by the educational facilities experts scheduled for Dec. 15. (The final long-term plan is expected to be completed by the first week in March. The earliest date for a bond referendum is next September.)
In most cases it appears that the schools can "handle what's coming" for the short term, Dr. Inserra said (see chart). He pointed out that there are no "dramatic changes" in sections in the K-5. And, while the projections for Weber Middle School indicate an increase from 882 students to 946, it can handle the increase, even though infrastructure issues exist.
He also noted that given the vagaries of projected enrollment figures, he's "hesitant" about predicating decisions on them. Explaining, he said, that this year's enrollment estimates for the kindergarten class of '98 was off by 20 students; "347 were estimated, and we got 327," he reported.
He was also careful to emphasize that "nothing is really okay" for the short term, alluding to the lack of support service space, inadequately sized rooms and lack of room for some of the programs the board wants to bring into the district, all of which have been discussed at length over the past year or so.
There is one exception, however, that may not be able to accommodate the enrollment in its existing space. Daly School will most likely need to have two classrooms added. (It was noted that Daly is the only school in the district whose two additional classrooms approved in the $2.5 million space bond never came on line.)
Dr. Inserra briefly reviewed the short-term options he contemplated for Daly. These included some minor localized redistricting and moving the ESL and PEP rooms around at Daly.
The options, however, ultimately came down to two: explore whether an addition could be constructed that fits into the long-term solution, or add more portables. But again, Dr. Inserra noted again that the final decision will be affected by what the consultants recommend and what the configuration of the schools will ultimately be. (It should be noted that the long-term plan will eliminate portables.)
The question of using the space bond money set aside for Daly was discussed. It was learned that out of the $425,000 earmarked to construct two permanent classrooms at Daly, $301,000 remains unspent. If this money is not used, it will be returned to the taxpayers and used to pay down the district's debt service.
Assistant Superintendent Larry Blake explained that the two additional classrooms, which were to be constructed on the roof over the cafeteria, were not built because of a structural problem that had to corrected to accommodate the plan approved by the SED. The board at the time decided to close the hole in the roof, without allowing the classrooms to be built. The building permit expired in 1996. To use the allocated fund now would require that new plans be submitted, and put through the full SED approval process.
District architect Ralph Ottaiano was asked how much two additional classrooms would cost today. Depending on the type (i.e. pre-fab), the costs would vary, he replied. But, very rough estimates of $425,000 plus were mentioned.
To use the $301,000 space bond money, the district would have to include the additional cost for the two classrooms in its 1999-2000 budget, which would not be approved until the middle of May. At that point, the approval and bid process could begin, followed by the actual construction. And, depending on the type of construction, having the classrooms on line in time for September '99 may not be feasible.
The board repeatedly stressed that once there's a better sense of the overall long range plan, after they receive the input from the facilities experts which is expected in December, a definite short-term solution will emerge.
Dr. Inserra informed the audience that a prime consideration in any decision facing the board regarding facilities will be the new State Education Department mandate that is requiring the county to reduce the number of students in out of district placements. All facilities plans sent to the SED must reflect some sort of effort to bring these students back to their districts. Currently, the district has 93 students that fall into this category. If the SED does not see evidence that a district is trying to comply with this mandate, it may not give the necessary approval for plans for renovations or expansions of its facilities.
To this end, Dr. Inserra suggests that for September '99 the board consider increasing the Alternative High School, and relocating it to the current Administration Building. (This would mean that six to 10 more students could be served within the district.) The administration offices would then be moved temporarily to the Salem facility, until the long-range plan is implemented. (Dr. Inserra noted that this does not necessarily mean that Salem will not be used as an elementary school in the long range plan.) He says that this could be done on a temporary basis, without too much inconvenience, and would demonstrate to the SED that the district is making attempts to comply with the new special education mandate.
The work at Salem would cost approximately $1 million and the cost to renovate the Administration Building would be $10-20,000.
Speaking to the issue of the inadequate space for support services at Daly, Pam Goldman, from the Daly HSA, informed the board that, last year, the school psychologist's office was in a room that was accessed through the cafeteria, creating privacy issues for students and parents. The same room was assigned this year to the speech and hearing specialist who had noise issues that needed to be resolved through careful scheduling.