Education

Boise taking another look at upgrading aging schools

Boise Schools: How should old buildings be upgraded?

Boise Schools' administrators ponder fixing up old buildings in a way that enhances education.
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Boise Schools' administrators ponder fixing up old buildings in a way that enhances education.

Rain is a big event at Amity Elementary School in Southwest Boise.

Water seeps through the dirt roof at several spots. The 37-year-old school, which once won design awards, was a forward-looking structure in line with the country’s growing interest in the environment when it was built with dirt walls and roofs in 1979.

Now, it’s a building with a leaky, nearly impossible-to-repair roof. The school puts containers above a false ceiling to catch the water where it trickles into the building.

In a storm, Amity custodian Wayne Wingo has a set routine: “I go around to every spot with a ladder and I climb up and empty the water out of all the containers.”

Reroofing isn’t an easy option. Tons of dirt would have to be pulled off the structure. And while no decisions have been made, there is talk that the best solution may be to tear down Amity, which has other problems as well, and start over.

Amity undoubtedly has one of the most unusual maintenance problems in the Boise School District, but with 47 buildings — nearly half built between 1912 and 1960 — it is hardly the only one.

What’s the district doing about it?

Boise is conducting a sweeping audit of buildings, looking at what needs upgrading, how the buildings help advance education and where district growth could require more room for students. The task involves far more than producing a laundry list of maintenance needs. “It’s also about the delivery of curriculum to kids and whether or not our school (buildings) are meeting the needs,” said Coby Dennis, deputy superintendent.

Explore an interactive map of Boise schools

Didn’t Boise do this before?

Yes. A process that began in 2005 resulted in a successful $94 million bond in 2006 that paid for several new schools. Among them: Grace Jordan and Morley Nelson elementaries; new East, South and West junior highs; and a new Whitney Elementary School. The district also improved several buildings, including Capital High School and Lowell Elementary.

How is this study being done?

Board trustees hired DeJong-Richter, an Ohio-based company that works with school districts across the country, to study district facilities. The study assesses building maintenance and whether buildings provide comparable educational opportunities. The 2016 study cost $241,315. The district used the same company in 2005.

Were some schools closed under the 2005-06 plan? Is that possible again?

As the district put together a proposal for revamping schools in 2005, it briefly placed Pierce Park, Washington and Monroe elementaries and Hillside Junior High on a possible school closure list. But the district backed off as parents protested. The district did close four aging elementary schools: Cole, Jackson, McKinley and Franklin. Those students went to two new elementaries. No closures are under consideration coming out of this study, said Nancy Gregory, board president. “We are pretty tight all across the city,” Gregory said. “I don’t think our population would bear any consolidation.”

I think the issue here is really about creating a facilities master plan that is going to drive our facilities planning and maintenance for the next 10 years.

Coby Dennis, deputy superintendent

What will the district do with this new information?

The DeJong-Richter study should be in the hands of Boise administrators at the end of July. Over the next month, the district will dispense information in advance of a pair of community meetings planned for Aug. 30-31. Information from those meetings will be considered in recommendations for how the district should go forward with improving buildings. Time and place for those meetings are not set.

Does this mean the district will come to voters for a bond to fix up or build new schools?

No one is saying that outright. But clearly growth could require new schools: in Harris Ranch in East Boise; and in Syringa Valley, a proposed 2,000 home development in Southwest Boise that could need both an elementary and a secondary school in the future. “Building and serious maintenance is only funded through bonds,” said Gregory.

So what is the condition of Boise School District buildings?

Building conditions aren’t different from other districts Boise’s size, said Tracy Richter, DeJong-Richter owner. But many Boise schools are old: 42 percent were built in 1960 or before. A number were built during the 1950s, when schools were going up quickly and cheaply, Richter said. For most of the schools, age is the problem. Air conditioners are old. Fire alarm systems aren’t up-to-date. Lots of schools have single-pane windows, which waste energy. Many need carpet and paint work that was deferred during the recession, when schools took sharp cuts in appropriations. Richter applied a “safe, warm and dry” standard to measuring maintenance issue for buildings.

Is there enough money to fix all the problems?

Nope. Richter estimated that solving heating and air conditioning problems in the district alone would cost $30 million. District leaders will have to prioritize what works gets done.

How will the study address standards for space in providing a good education?

The Richter study is assessing that. Example: Three junior high schools have space for storage and combine space for music and choir. North Junior High does not, Richter said. That doesn’t mean North’s program isn’t as good. But in deciding how to improve school buildings, space for offering the best opportunities could well be a consideration, Richter said. Another example: Some schools have a combined cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium. It’s hard for schools with “cafegymatoriums” to offer music, P.E. and lunch in such shared spaces, compared to schools that have separate facilities, Dennis said.

Your Boise school’s tax bill

There is no talk yet of a bond for new or upgraded schools in Boise School District coming out of the 2016 facilities study. But it’s a possible outcome. Here is a snapshot: The owner of a home with a taxable value (after the homeowner exemption) of $100,000 paid $504.83 in 2015-2016 to the district.

Maintenance and operations

$348.92

Permanent Supplemental levy*

$63.58

Temporary supplemental levy

$21.21

Tort

$1.12

Bonds

$70

* Permanent levy supports technology, maintenance and general operation. It does not come back to voters regularly for approval.

Source: Boise School District

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