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The chimney at Greenwood Elementary School needs to be shortened, according to a building assessment report prepared by Scott Rose of the DLR Group. The chimney needs to be reduced because at its present height it would represent a hazard in the event of an earthquake. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
School district may seek a bond to address building issues
Age, years of deferred maintenance and glitches made during the baby boomer construction era are catching up with the La Grande School District’s buildings and facilities.
Many of the school district’s buildings are in dire need of major renovation work, a point recently made clear by Scott Rose of the Portland office of the DLR Group, an architecture and design firm. Rose presented a report to the La Grande School Board outlining what needs to be done to upgrade the school district’s facilities. The report was prepared following an extensive examination of the condition of the La Grande School District’s buildings by Rose.
He determined that the school district’s buildings and facilities are in need of about $14 million of work addressing major renovation, maintenance and security issues.
“Your buildings are well maintained but they are also very old. They are suffering from building fatigue,” Rose told the school board.
Four of the district’s six schools were essentially constructed in the 1920s and 1950s, which is part of the reason for its problems. Rose explained that schools constructed in the United States in the 1920s tended to be well built but are now experiencing problems due to aging. Schools built in the 1950s were made of lower grade materials which are now failing, Rose said.
La Grande faces a situation similar to that of many other school districts in the United States.
“The buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1950s are all coming due at the same time,” Rose said.
At least 10 years worth of deferred maintenance due to tight budgets is also a major contributor to the school district’s building problems, said La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.
“We focused on spending our money on keeping teachers in the classroom instead of maintenance work,” Glaze said. “When you do this year after year, your list of deferred maintenance projects gets bigger and bigger.”
The school district requested the building assessment by DLR because it is looking into the possibility of asking voters to approve a bond levy for building and maintenance work.
A number of the recommendations Rose made in his report address safety issues.
One of the most visible is the 10-foot-high chimney at Greenwood Elementary School. Rose said that it needs to be shortened because its present height makes it a hazard in the event of an earthquake.
“In an earthquake many injuries result from falling objects,” Rose said.
He also said a seismic brace needs to be attached to the chimney.
The brick chimney’s problem is compounded by the poor condition of its mortar. So great is the deterioration that even if the chimney were shortened it might be a hazard even in a mild earthquake unless mortar is restored, said Jim MacKay, the school district’s maintenance supervisor.
The cost of the work needed to be done on the chimney would be $28,000.
The price tag for addressing other safety issues would be much higher. The La Grande High School track is a case in point. The track has such large cracks that meets have not been conducted on it for years. The report recommends the track be replaced at a cost of $460,000.
MacKay said the root cause of the problem with the track is that it has a poor foundation that allows water to seep in, causing the track to deteriorate. MacKay said that a good foundation is particularly important at the site of the track because it is located on ground with a high water table.
“This area used to be a swamp,” MacKay said.
Major cracks in the tennis courts at LHS are also a safety hazard. Rose recommends the tennis courts be replaced at a cost of $230,000.
MacKay said that attempts have been made to address the cracking problem for years but they have been unsuccessful. For example, asphalt was used to patch the cracks but the problem has continued.
The facilities report also addresses the classroom space needs of the school district. The district will need a significant amount of additional space in the future if it is to boost its kindergarten program from a half-day to a full-day program.
“Research shows that students who attend full-day kindergarten are better prepared for first grade,” Glaze said.
Full-day kindergarten has become a viable option since the Legislature passed a bill requiring the state to cover operating expenses for full-day kindergarten in public school districts beginning in 2014-15. The legislation, however, did not provide funding allowing districts to add the classroom space needed for full-day kindergarten.
The total cost of adding the space needed for all-day kindergarten at Central, Greenwood and Island City elementary schools would be about $1.4 million.
All of the district’s half-day kindergarten classes are presently taught at Willow Elementary, a kindergarten-
The DLR report also addresses other space issues in the school district, including the approximately half dozen classrooms in modular structures at Central and Island City. The report recommends that classrooms be built to replace the modulars at a total cost of about $3.2 million.
Rose said that if the district seeks a bond levy to cover the cost of addressing the district’s space and maintenance needs, involving community, staff and students in the process would be critical because it would heighten the overall understanding of what the community needs.
Rose recalled that one Oregon school district neglected to do this and its bond lost by a 2-to-1 margin. The district then began involving community members in the planning process. The bond passed in a second vote even though additional money had been sought.
“People will pay more if they believe it is the right plan,” Rose said.
A 41-member committee made up of community and school district staff members has been created to determine whether a bond levy is needed. The committee will recommend to the school board whether or not it should go for a bond levy and what the proposed bond should cover.
If the school district seeks a bond levy, Glaze said there is a good chance it would do so in a November 2014 election.