More than a Band-Aid Needed for Cd’A Schools
Safety and security updates and a slew of repairs are desperately needed across the Coeur d’Alene School District.
The district has more than $25 million in deferred maintenance — projects and repairs that have been needed for some time.
The average age of public schools in Coeur d’Alene is 30 years old, which means that students are surrounded by buildings and equipment that are as old, or even older, than their parents.
This age is showing, and it’s only going to get worse. If nothing is done, that $25 million in facilities work needed now will grow to $68 million by 2027.
“It’s snowballing and continues to get bigger every year,” said Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Shon Hocker. “We need to get this deferred maintenance under control, otherwise it will become a bigger problem.”
Earlier this month, the district’s long-range planning committee presented the Coeur d’Alene School Board with a recommendation for a drawdown from the school facilities reserve fund to help address maintenance issues. The levy would fund deferred maintenance projects for up to 10 years. The Long Range Planning Committee considers deferred maintenance to be one of the District’s top priorities.
A school facility reserve fund levy is a property tax measure decided by the registered voters of a school district.
Coeur d’Alene school administrators will review three possible drawdown scenarios at a special meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Midtown Meeting Center, 1505 N. Fifth St., Coeur d’Alene.
Each possible levy would be a fixed amount each year for 10 years and would require the approval of 55% of voters for passage. If approved, the money will go into a capital projects fund each year to cover construction costs, while avoiding interest charges to borrow the funds.
The three options directors will consider placing on a ballot are:
1) A 10-year drawdown from the School Facilities Reserve Fund of up to $7 million per year. This would have an estimated average annual cost to the taxpayer of $43.78 per $100,000 of assessed value of the property, per year, under current conditions.
2) A 10-year School Facilities Reserve Fund drawdown of up to $8 million per year. This would have an estimated average annual cost to the taxpayer of $50.03 per $100,000 of assessed value of the property, per year, under current conditions.
3) A 10-year drawdown from the School Facilities Reserve Fund of up to $9 million per year. This would have an estimated average annual cost to the taxpayer of $56.29 per $100,000 of assessed value of the property, per year, under current conditions.
If trustees approve any of those options, voters in the district would be invited to vote on Aug. 30. The need is pressing enough that the district is considering reaching out to the community now.
“The state provides very little funding for maintenance and zero for construction, so growth, new construction, and upkeep of buildings are the responsibility of the local community through bonds and levies,” said Jeff Voeller, the school district’s director of operations.
The 41 buildings in the Coeur d’Alene School District have just over 1.4 million square feet of space. The current replacement value of all buildings, not including land, is $346 million.
Voeller explained that industry standards recommend that 2% of current replacement value be allocated to deferred maintenance. This would require $7 million per year.
“I recognize that seems like a lot, but when you step back and look at the size of the neighborhood, the number of buildings and the total area that we maintain, 2% is not a lot,” said Voeller said.
He said last year Idaho provided the district with $600,000 in lottery revenue to use for maintenance.
“That’s barely enough to cover the labor and materials needed to replace a few systems that fail across the district in a year,” Voeller said.
These typically include one or two units of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; a few toilets; a water heater; and anything that comes out in a given year, Voeller said.
“We need to move from a reactionary model of solving problems when they arise to a proactive approach and address the replacement of building systems or components that need to be replaced before the building is shut down,” he said. . “We need a reasonable and dedicated source of funding to be able to accomplish this.”
About a third of the schools in the district are between 25 and 30 years old and many of their components are original.
Hayden Meadows Elementary, Fernan STEM Academy, Lake City High, and Woodland Middle School were all built in the 1990s. Skyway and Atlas Elementary Schools were built in the early 2000s.
“These schools all have a lot of big-ticket items coming their way,” Voeller said.
He said roofing and HVAC systems typically have life cycles of 25 to 30 years. Older schools such as Coeur d’Alene High, Canfield Middle, and Dalton Elementary Schools have had some improvements through bond projects over the past 10 years, but other elements have not been treated and need to be replaced, especially carpeting and tiled floors which are worn out. .
“Right now, we’re fixing roofs rather than replacing and changing heat exchangers on HVAC units in units that should be replaced to last another few years,” Voeller said. “A few systems require complete replacement as parts are no longer being manufactured due to the age of the system.”
He said that at the moment the schools are in good condition, but due to the age of many buildings, the lifespan of important building elements, visual inspection and maintenance costs to keep older systems running, the district’s building portfolio will rapidly transition to a “poor” category over the next three to four years.
The facility tax would also address security measures, which have been of concern to many parents and guardians who have contacted the district since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde in May.
Superintendent Hocker said the district already has $5 million worth of security and safety updates it needs to address.
“We just think we’d rather deal with them sooner than later,” he said.
An example would be raising the height of fences around schools.
“We have elementary schools that have 4-foot fences,” Hocker said. “Obviously if we could make that fence a little higher, that costs money.”
Council chair Rebecca Smith said she looks forward to the council having this conversation.
“Monday’s discussion regarding school safety and deferred maintenance is important and timely,” she said.
Hocker said it wasn’t the end of the world if the swab wasn’t approved.
“But there’s a reason the committee is making this recommendation,” he said. “It will cost taxpayers more if we wait.”