Equity, efficiencies targeted in Jeffco Schools facilities program

Bats, temporary buildings, and equity took center stage at a discussion about the state of Jeffco’s school facilities this spring.

Students and staff from Alameda High School told the Jeffco School Board about extreme issues — including bats — that distract from learning. Similarily, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee told board members that while Jeffco’s students may be amazing, too often their learning conditions are not.

Capital Asset Advisory Committee Recommendations

The biggest obstacle to updating school buildings is funding, members of the Capital Asset Advisory Committee (CAAC) told the board during its April 5 meeting. The CAAC is composed of Jeffco professionals from construction, architecture, business, and finance who advise the district about school buildings and future facility planning.

For the past several years, Jeffco has only allocated $17 million for facility maintenance, largely due to tight budgets, committee members said.

“$17 million sounds like a really big number. But that amounts to about $1.40 per square foot and it’s less than 1 percent than the value of your asset,” said Dawn Williams, CAAC member.

“The district used to net closer to $25 million for the annual capital transfer per year, which was still below the standard for commercial property according to committee members who have that type of expertise,” Williams said.

“Our buildings are aging and getting more expensive to maintain, and we would definitely support a higher annual investment in maintaining our community asset as preventative maintenance,” she said.

This includes building security, testing for lead, unfunded state mandates like expenses for locks and doors, and playgrounds, Williams said.

“Having healthy schools is just something that I feel like our community takes for granted just because of the tremendous work of our district staff. I don’t know that our community really appreciates the magic that happens every year to stretch the money that they’re given to work with,” Williams said.

facility needs
Rain leaks through a closed window and puddles on a windowsill at Alameda Jr/Sr High School. Photo courtesy of Erin Murphy. Used with permission.

The cost to do all the repairs is known as the facilities condition index (FCI). FCI goes up as buildings age with limited maintenance.

“Just like old cars, they’re expensive to maintain. Money goes into things, but you just don’t see it,” she explained. “It goes into repairing heating systems; it goes into new windows.”

In their annual report, the committee highlighted the need for new windows, door locks, and enhanced entrances that improve security and make students welcome.

Committee members emphasized that Jeffco spends $1.40 per square foot, but the industry standard is much higher. To appropriately maintain buildings, Jeffco should allocate approximately $40 million per year to facilities, explained CAAC member Bret Poole.

Safety is a big issue for the community right now, and Jeffco needs buildings that mesh with what we need to teach students for the future, said CAAC member Tom Murray.

The traditional way to fund facility maintenance is through bonds, but he’s not sure the public understands that these days, said member Gordon Calahan.

“It’s great to think that the money’s out there, but it isn’t,” Calahan said.

CAAC member Jeff Wilhite told board members that the district needs to communicate that things are not ok so that the community understands the facilities needs are urgent.

Equity at Alameda Junior/Senior High School

deferred maintenance
Leaking ceilings and missing or stained ceiling panels are another widespread issue at Alameda Jr/Sr High School. Photo courtesy of Erin Murphy. Used with permission.

Several students, staff, and community members highlighted problems that affect Alameda International Junior/Senior High School at the April 5 board meeting. Among the problems: bats flying through the building, snow blowing through holes in the hallway roof, asbestos concerns, and problems with heat and air conditioning.

facility equity
When rain soaks through ceilings that contain asbestos at Alameda Jr/Sr High School, classrooms cannot be used until the air is tested to determine if the soaking asbestos is a health threat. Photo courtesy Erin Murphy. Used with permission.

Alameda teacher Erin Murphy said that Alameda students return from visiting other Jeffco high schools and ask them, “Why are those schools so nice?”

An Alameda parent asked them to tear down the old school and rebuild. A community member who doesn’t have children, but volunteers at Alameda every week, echoed those concerns and asked them to improve the building.

A $20 million renovation for Alameda Jr/Sr High School was included as part of a Jeffco Schools bond package in both 2008 and 2016, but renovations were put on hold both times after voters rejected the ballot measures.

Proposed 2018 Capital Improvement Program

Renovations, additions, and efficiency improvements are all included in a new proposed 2018 Capital Improvement Program.

The 2018 program would focus on safety and efficiency, said Tim Reed, executive director of Jeffco Facilities and Construction Management. He explained that one goal is to replace all current lighting with LED lighting. If they could make all the efficiency improvements, Jeffco Schools would reduce utility costs by $10 million annually, Reed said.

The goal of the 2018 program is “to improve, enhance, and secure all Jeffco Public Schools, resulting in a learning environment that prepares our students for the future,” Reed said.

The 2018 program focuses on six areas:

  • efficiency and modernization
  • parity
  • programmatic needs
  • growth areas
  • building replacements
  • specialities
Efficiency and Modernization

Efficiency and modernization make up the largest share – about 30 percent of the program — at an estimated cost of $242 million. Reed said the goal is a 50 percent reduction in FCI, from 20 percent down to 10 percent.

“That would make a huge difference in our schools and how they function,” he said. A secondary benefit would be a 50 percent reduction in maintenance & operations costs –  about a $10 million savings. Reed’s team has seen a 20 percent reduction in electric bills when they replaced a building’s lighting with LED. This program would allow them to replicate those results districtwide.

Parity

Parity involves renovations and improvements that create equity between pre-1980 high schools and post-1980s high schools. There are significant differences in how high schools were designed for education before and after 1980, Reed said. Parity accounts for 20 percent of the program at an estimated cost of $118 million.

Programmatic Needs

Programmatic needs are something Jeffco has been addressing by building additions to middle schools that need more capacity. In most cases, the additional space is needed to support moving sixth graders to middle school.

However, other middle schools will also be at capacity and will need additions, Reed said. Addressing programmatic needs is estimated to cost $46 million.

Growth Areas

Addressing growth areas, especially in northwest Jeffco and Lakewood is estimated to cost $55 million. Solutions include an addition to Three Creeks and building a new school to accommodate students in growing parts of the county.

Building Replacements

Building replacements are estimated to cost $96 million. Reed said the facilities department established a criteria for recommending on-site replacements.  The criteria requires a school to have a high FCI and be located on a large site. This criteria allows a new school to be built on the site while the old school remains occupied. The criteria also include significant educational adequacy deficiencies, high operations & maintenance costs, and specialized needs programs.

“Some of our buildings are structurally sound and can be renovated, like Rose-Stein,” explained Steve Bell, chief operating officer. “Some of them are not, so we cannot infuse that major renovation-type project, at least without incurring at least as much cost as it would take to replace the building. We make that evaluation from site-to-site.”

Specialities

A final $25 million would be used for specialities such as additional security measures and technology. Security measures include securing building perimeters and improving building entry control. Improvements also include increasing site monitoring, classroom security, improved video surveillance, and replacing fire sprinkler systems. Technology improvements include support for 1:1 devices, increased bandwidth, and increased reliability and system security.

The 2018 program also includes removing 170 temporary buildings from schools around the district.

Charter Schools

Jeffco’s charter schools would also receive $65 million for capital improvement projects, Reed said.

Estimated Cost: $647 Million

Reed estimated that the this would be a six-year program, at a cost of $647 million.

Although $647 million seems to be quite a jump from the $535 million 2016 bond package, the increase is driven by inflation and construction costs, Bell said.

“In 2016, construction costs for the type of facilities that we build was going up at 8 to 12 percent a year. That hasn’t changed,” Bell said. “So I just look at the static program for 2016 and import a 8 to 12 percent cost escalation over two years, and there we are.”

What would this mean for your school?

Jeffco currently has a facilities sheet for each school that explains how each school would benefit if additional funding was available in the future.

The sheet describes a school’s FCI, age, enrollment and square footage. In addition, the sheet includes specific details about what improvements would be made at that school. Improvements range from new security systems to interior remodeling, new furniture, and more.

Additional funding could come from Initiative 93, if it makes it onto the November ballot and voters approve it. Jeffco School Board members also discussed the possibility of putting a bond package on the ballot this fall. The Jeffco School Board plans to discuss funding issues again in August.

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, musicologist and Jeffco resident since 1999 with two children attending Jeffco Schools. Lisa earned a BA from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Music from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When not working, she can be found running (ideally on mountain trails) with Midnight, her miniature poodle. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Lisa and our other writers.