With the bond issue election over, the Washington School Board is turning its attention on how to address both space needs districtwide and facility repairs.
The board held a workshop Wednesday night to discuss the projects approved by voters in the April 2 election, as well as others that will have to be addressed, including major improvements to the outdoor athletic complex at Washington High School.
School officials have talked about the need for a new surface for the field and track for a long time, but waited to pull the trigger on any major improvements until the outcome of the last two elections.
With approval of Question 1 of the district’s two-part Prop R earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said it’s time to move forward on the “long overdue” repairs.
“Now that we know the classroom addition at Marthasville Elementary and the HVAC upgrade at Augusta Elementary, as well as the wireless infrastructure, will be paid for through the bond issue, we can talk about spending our capital improvement funds on the track and field project,” she said.
Passage of Question 1 also will allow the district to build a new early childhood center.
Voters, however, failed to pass Question 2, a $40 million bond issue with a 25-cent tax rate increase, to build a new 6-8 middle school.
To address space needs, the board wants to conduct a boundary adjustment study, and study grade reconfigurations, such as making some of the schools K-2 or possibly another building a sixth-grade center.
A transportation and financial analysis also would be done in conjunction with these studies, VanLeer said.
“We have no plans at this point to put another bond issue on the ballot so the board wants to look at all of its options moving forward,” she said. “They feel very strongly that trailers are unacceptable from both a safety and financial standpoint so changes will need to be made.”
The studies will be conducted in the coming year and then the findings communicated to the public.
VanLeer noted that some boundary adjustments would have been made if the middle school project had been approved.
“But now we will have to be much more aggressive and comprehensive once we start busting at the seams,” she said, noting the district currently has five elementary buildings at capacity.
VanLeer said the board had a very long discussion Wednesday night looking at the pros and cons of the athletic complex improvements.
The district is currently seeking bids for the project which would involve installing an artificial surface on the field so it could be used not only by the football team, but the many other athletic teams and the band, which currently practices on the parking lot.
The track is in such disrepair, WHS has not been able to host any home meets on campus this year, instead the teams are utilizing the track at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, Warrenton High School and other schools in the area. The teams also cannot practice at their home track.
The district is spending money to transport its own students to home meets, VanLeer said, and losing out on the revenue brought in at these meets.
The superintendent said a new surface will be costly, but the upkeep and short-term “fixes and patches” to the field also are very expensive, and the track is beyond any short-term repairs.
“Board members talked about how other high schools have multiple fields, both for competition and practice, while we only have a total of two, and at least one has got to be a multipurpose field,” she said. “The board is embarrassed, many of our patrons are embarrassed and frankly I am embarrassed about how our track and field look.
“It’s about pride and taking care of what little we have,” she added.
The visiting bleachers also are in very bad shape and need to be replaced.
VanLeer said the board is receptive to spending the money on the repairs, especially in light of liability and safety concerns.
“We know some people might question whether we should spend the money, but this is a project that can be done with one-time monies, while constructing a new school is something that has to be financed over 20 years,” VanLeer said.
The board also discussed using the $500,000 it received from Harman Becker in a settlement agreement with the city over tax payments for the project.
“We also plan to talk to the booster clubs about possible fund-raising or sponsorship opportunities,” VanLeer said.
“We easily have the worst high school field in Franklin County and in the Gateway Athletic Complex and it’s become a real liability,” she said. “If we want to have home track meets and preserve our band competition, we have to take action.”
The bids will be reviewed at a meeting Monday, April 22.