All buildings in the Tallapoosa County School System need some type of renovation and it’s going to take a long time to finish those projects due to funding, according to superintendent Joe Windle.
Windle presented a $34 million wish list to the Tallapoosa County Commission in March which listed renovations and projects from a facilities assessment. He said if the county commission will reaffirm the 1-cent sales tax devoted to schools for 25 to 30 years the school system can secure $25 million in long-term financing for the renovations and capital projects.
Q. What are the specifics of the $34 million wish list for county schools?
A. That wish list was based on the facilities assessment that was completed by Goodwyn Mills Cawood, which did a complete assessment of our facilities across the county system. We used their estimate and then our own judgment because we’ve been looking at these facilities for 10 years now and really our capital plan has been a wish list because we did not have the funding to fund the (projects) that are on our list, especially new construction and major renovations. In the capital plan, which requires a funding source, all of our funding sources were unknown. But with the passage of the 1-cent sales tax for education in May of 2015 we began to dig our way out of the financial difficulties that we were in.
For example, (Reeltown Elementary School’s building) is over 90 years old. We have over 500 students in that building. It’s heated by a boiler producing steam heat and is the oldest active boiler system in a school in the state of Alabama.
One of our gyms is over 60 years old, another of our gyms is over 50 years old and both of those gyms are competitive gyms and the only gyms on that particular campus. (Reeltown’s band room) originally was a canning plant.
We need to do better than that. We need a new gymnasium and fieldhouse here in Dadeville. We need major renovations on Dadeville Elementary School which would include the lunchroom, the library and media center and bringing the back hallway up to 21st century learning standards from a technology standpoint and meeting current building codes. The building currently meets none of the state building codes. All of these projects total about $18 million.
(Horseshoe Bend School) was placed into operation in 1992. It lacks gutters and downspouts on much of the building there so water accumulates in areas around the perimeter walls and has caused a major drainage issue and civil engineering work. Both of the gyms (at Horseshoe Bend) need air conditioning and the competitive gym needs some upgrades in the locker rooms and it needs a conditioning room for female athletes. The elementary gym (at Horseshoe Bend) needs bathrooms and a playing floor that would allow practice to be completed in that gym so we aren’t finishing so late in the evening with our competitive teams.
We’re looking at a 400-seat auditorium that could also be used as a performing arts center. The cost of that program is about $2.7 million. (Horseshoe Bend) needs canopies over the pick-up and drop-off for elementary students and it needs a canopy over the area where buses park and drop and pick up students. The renovations and additions up there cost about $2.5 million and this would include some technology upgrades and some electrical upgrades.
The facilities assessment also included a roof assessment over the next 15 years. That roof assessment projected about $8 million in roof repair and replacement over the next 15 years.
We project that we can address $7 million of those needs with public school funds, capital outlay funds and from our own reserves, leaving about $25 million that we can’t fund without long-term financial support. As we look at our needs we would look specifically at a long-term bond issue or long-term funding.
Q. What project do you think is most necessary to work on first?
A. Life safety issues. In our facilities assessment plan, there were some life safety issues that we would have to address first or are addressing at this time. One of those examples is roofing at the agriculture building at Reeltown High School. It’s a life safety issue. Others would be doors, exit signs and proper lighting as examples.
Q. How long do you think it will take to raise the other $25 million for these projects?
A. If the commission passed the 1-cent tax for a period of 25 or 30 years, we would immediately go and secure that $25 million. We’re already working with several different financial organizations to see what is the best deal we can presently get. It’s a good bond market right now. It’s also a good market with banks right now. The timing is good from an interest standpoint in working with these financial institutions but what we need is a long-term commitment of 25 or 30 years so that we can begin that process.
Each month that there is a delay in a decision of a long-term financial stream, one month equals four months to us because of the process we have to go through in order to get a project approved by the state building commission, get it bidded and for a contractor and us to agree on a start date. That’s a three-month process at a minimum.
The other issue is that some of our major renovations have to be done when our students are not at school. We’re limited in a window of opportunity. If we’re going to do major renovations and enlarge the lunchroom at Dadeville, which is a major need, then we have to start that the day school is out and work to get it finished or almost finished over the summer months or we have to find an alternative feeding method for over 1,000 students. So some projects are limited in the window of opportunity to do those projects and others are certainly limited by (having) a long-term funding stream because of the cost.
Coming next: In part 2 of the series, Windle discusses the growing enrollment of Tallapoosa County Schools and making an adjustment to larger class sizes.