District also needs $62 million in deferred maintenance to sustain older schools
After four months of study, the district’s Facility Task Force presented recommendations to the School Board on matters related to deferred maintenance and enrollment growth at two meetings in January. The first recommendation was that the district needs an updated bus garage. The current garage can hold 50 buses and the district currently operates more than 100 buses. The garage needs additional mechanical bays, wash bays, and more land for parking and space.
The second part of the recommendation focused on enrollment growth and deferred maintenance (long-term building and facility maintenance). DeeDee Kahring, director of finance and operations, who also led the task force, began by discussing an updated demographic study. That study, completed by Davis Demographics in January 2019, shows an overall enrollment increase of 1,400 students in five years, with approximately 875 of those students in the elementary level. Currently, the district is at capacity, or close to it, in most elementary schools.
“We fell behind [on capacity], and with Carver [Elementary] we had to catch up,” said Board Chair Tim Klein. “In two years, we’ll be in the same spot.”
Options to meet enrollment growth
Looking at current elementary capacity compared to projected enrollment, the district will be over its elementary school capacity by 600 students in five years. Kahring said that while that figure is high, it could be higher depending on how many housing developments are approved by the four cities that make up Eastern Carver County Schools. She said the task force also considered the possibility that enrollment projections may not hit their marks. Middle school and high school enrollments should remain within school capacity for the next several years, based on current projections.
The task force looked at two options to deal with elementary enrollment growth: Adding on to three elementary schools or building a new elementary school. The district owns land in Victoria and Chaska that is suitable for an elementary school.
The task force decided a 610-student elementary school at a cost of $35.5 million was their preferred option. This recommendation was based on several factors, including the fact that building a new school was less expensive than additions to three schools. The task force did not recommend a location. Kahring said this choice meets the Board’s goal to have a plan if enrollment falls over or under projections. If enrollment is over projections, the district can add on to one, two or three elementary schools when needed. If enrollment is under projections, the boundary change process that comes with a new school could balance enrollments as needed. The time between now and a potential boundary process also allows for updated enrollment projections. If taxpayers vote in November 2019 in favor of a new elementary school, the school would open in Fall of 2022.
Keeping schools in top operational condition
The second recommendation from the task force focused on essential maintenance in schools across the district. While the district has been growing and building new schools, the median age of schools is 34 years. Chaska Middle School East, Chaska Middle School West, Chanhassen Elementary, La Academia and East Union Elementary were all built in the 1960s and early 1970s. These schools still have original electrical, heating and ventilation systems, and plumbing. While there have been updates to parking lots, roofs, flooring and paint over the years, the infrastructure behind the walls needs to be updated, Kahring said. And many other schools also need new flooring, parking lots and roofs. She acknowledged that asking for these items in a bond referendum – projects that don’t have a lot of visual appeal – can be difficult. However, they have long-term benefits like energy efficiency and better air quality and these updates would allow schools to remain in use for another 20-30 years. The types of updates needed are similar to those homeowners must face as their homes age.
“We need to protect our investments,” said Board Director Ron Meyer. “It’s not always fun to talk about facility maintenance, but one theme of the task force was that we need to put our resources toward keeping these up.”
The task force, working with engineering and architectural consultants, reduced the initial facility maintenance list determined last summer from $150 million in projects to $139.2 million. The list of projects includes all schools and buildings owned by the district except Carver Elementary, which opened in 2017. This is a ten-year plan, and projects are on a timeline to be completed by 2029 as funding becomes available. From the project list of $139.2 million, the task force recommended the Board include $62 million in deferred maintenance as part of a bond referendum. The remaining $77.2 million would be spaced out over 10 years in a tax levy controlled by School Board approval.
Complete recommendation: $110.5 million bond referendum
The task force’s final recommendation for deferred maintenance and enrollment growth is that the School Board consider a $110.5 bond referendum. The funding would be used for a new elementary school ($35.5 million), deferred maintenance ($61.5 million), and a new bus garage ($13.5 million).
The School Board did not make any decisions. It directed administration to conduct extensive public engagement and bring that input back. District administration is planning to conduct a focus group with parent leaders representing every school, a scientifically-valid community survey, staff input and a public listening session March 11, 6:30 pm at Chaska High School. District administration will also look at other budgetary needs over the next several months, as well as the tax impact of any referendum recommendations. To learn more about the important work of the Facility Task Force.