Letter to the Editor: Long-term solutions offered for schools

March 2015 Posted in Columnists & Opinion, School

The Silver Falls School Board has recently passed another resolution to close Eugene Field School (EFS) and to move the children to Mark Twain School (MTS) by Fall of 2016.  The MTS students in turn will be moved to, the Schlador St School (SSS) (the old high school campus) following the addition of some modular units and some other improvements to that site.  The school district will borrow, according to the resolution, $2.5 million dollars in order to facilitate this plan.  This number seems to be an unverified estimate, and will be repaid from general funds, at considerable financial risk to the district.

Following the non-passage of the last two school bond measures, there does not seem to be a long-term plan in place for the future of our primary and middle schools.  The dollars amounts of the defeated measures were $36.9 million (May 2013)  and $24.9 million (Nov. 2014) respectively.  Voting was 56% no vs. 44% yes in the first, and 57.5% no vs. 42.5% yes in the second.  There was no allowance for structural remediation of the rural schools in the second measure.

Most are in agreement that we have some serious issues with at least three of our in-town schools (including the mostly abandoned SSS) as well as the rural schools.  According to five well-qualified local experts, EFS and SSS (even the old portion) can be remediated to negate the problems involving seismic instability, plumbing, wiring, heating and all of the other outstanding issues.

Following are what we believe are long-term, cost effective solutions that address the safety and usefulness of our schools.

Solutions

Scenario #1:  Timeline and Costs

This option includes complete renovation of two schools, EFS and SSS, and funds for rural schools.  Total cost of this option is : $20 – $24 million, less seismic grants for EFS and SSS:  $1 – $2 million (Use to pay down bond).  Details as follows:

  • Move Mark Twain students to SSS summer of 2016 (or earlier); move EFS students to Mark Twain at same time.  These costs are included in the current Board Resolution plan.
  • Immediately begin complete renovation of EFS, finishing late spring 2017:     $6-$8 million.
  • K-3 children start 2017-2018 school year in upgraded school.
  • Begin renovation of SSS immediately upon completing EFS, summer 2017:     $12 – $14 million).
  • During following school year, continue work on parts of the complex not currently housing students.  (Or move students back to Mark Twain for one year).
  • Following completion of SSS as middle school, sell Mark Twain property, which has its own very serious problems.
  • Fund for fixing rural schools:  $2 million
  • UnkownWill current district borrowing need to be paid back with new bond?

End result:  Two completely renovated, safe and new schools, one valuable property for sale, preservation of usable assets

Scenario #2:  Timeline and Costs

This option includes the complete renovation of EFS and funds for rural schools.  The renovation of SSS would be delayed for a future time, possibly when the current high school bond is retired in less than 12 years.  Total cost of this option is $7 – $9.5 million, less seismic grants for EFS:      $0.5 – $1  million (Use to pay down bond).

  • Move Mark Twain students to SSS summer of 2016 (or earlier); move EFS students to Mark Twain at same time.  These costs are included in the current Board Resolution plan.
  • Immediately begin complete renovation of EFS, finishing late spring 2017:       $6 – $8 million.
  • K-3 children start 2017-2018 school year in upgraded school.
  • Fund for fixing rural schools:  $1 to $1.5 million
  • UnkownWill current district borrowing need to be paid back with new bond?
  • Move Jr High students back to Mark Twain or leave them in modular units at SSS until that campus is renovated upon future bond passage.  Future bond could include adding classrooms at Robert Frost School site if deemed necessary at that time.

History and Observations

The above solutions (or variations of them) provide the fiscally responsible, long-term plan that the voters are looking for.  As more information becomes public, it is apparent that EFS and SSS can be successfully and safely remediated, and at much less cost to the taxpayers than completely abandoning EFS would allow.

Communities throughout the country continue to remediate dated schools for educational use into the distant future.  Some are much older than ours and in worse condition. Is this administration saying that Silverton is so unique that we as a community cannot educate students in our remediated buildings while all across this country other school districts can and do?  Look to recently renovated schools in Molalla and in Stayton.   These were cost efficient projects.

Similar remediation solutions were proposed for both EFS and SSS by expert, experienced local consultants according to a 2012 architect’s report, yet the Superintendent and Board ignored those recommendations and chose to rely on a company the superintendent brought in from Portland that suggested a new school as the only viable answer, and at a much higher cost.

Many voters do not wish to see another costly measure that proposes to abandon a valuable district resource.  EFS is the property of all the district residents, city and rural, and any repurposing of that building from a school would most likely not benefit the rural constituents.   The return to the District would be pennies on the dollar compared to its value as a school.   Every district school that is closed sends an undeniable message to all voters.  Will the rural schools be next?

There have been many justifications by this Board and by individuals from or representing the administration as to why EFS should be abandoned, such as the play ground is not large enough, traffic is dangerous, remediation cannot be done, it’s not a good location, etc.  These issues can be feasibly addressed with the proper remediation planning.  A newly remodeled EFS may not supply every item on every wish list, but it would be a comfortable and safe place of learning for our youngest students.

Some of the building’s problems would never have become an issue had the school district administrators responded to common maintenance needs in the past.  All district schools must be continually and properly maintained to avoid the kinds of asset degradation we have been witnessing for years.

The SSS campus too has stood the tests of time and will continue to do so long into the future after remediation.  The old portion does not need to be torn down, but can be remodeled and made seismically safe at a much lower cost that a complete rebuild according to a number of local experts.

Mark Twain School has its own seismic and structural issues and is in a poor location for a school (hillside, narrow streets for busses).  Some have suggested that it is more of a seismic hazard the either EFS or SSS, and is undesirable for long term use.  It makes much more sense to plan for the eventual selling of that site for a potential future housing development to be added onto the tax rolls.

If the Board and this administration do not come across as political or manipulative in how the next bond measure is presented, many of the no voters could turn into yes voters.  Do not shortchange the astute nature of our general populace.  Many in the district are aware of the long-term, organized pressure, and the fear emotion approach in presentations to the Board.   Do what the polling advisors have suggested; go further outside of the Board meetings and work sessions to discuss concerns of the district voters.

Dan and Louise Johnson
Silverton

January 26, 2015

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