In order to go to lunch, many students at New Haven School have to stand by a locked gate waiting for staff to open it.
And unlike other schools that have just two lunch periods New Haven has five. That’s because the campus on North Austin Road was originally built as a country school. Today — thanks to portable classrooms of which many are more than 30 years old — the campus is primarily filled with students bused from the neighborhoods in the City of Manteca.
The fencing and lockable gate was put in for basic security. Given the school was built in less trying times; there wasn’t a huge concern for security. In today’s world the campus as originally designed is now extremely porous. The additional fencing forced those visiting the campus to go to the office first.
While a remedy for security is relocating the office to a central point as was done with the Shasta School campus and the lunch time challenge can be addressed by putting in place a modern multi-purpose room, the things that worry Aaron Bowers the most aren’t visible to casual observers.
Bowers is the Manteca Unified director of facilities and operations. He’s tasked with keeping the taxpayers’ $1 billion plus investment in 32 school campuses in shape.
Issues at New Haven School are a microcosm of aging campuses throughout the district that serves 25,000 students.
*Uneven playground asphalt and sidewalks that are tripping hazards as well as places where water pools.
*Dry rot on aging portable classrooms.
*Aging heating and air conditioning units.
*Roofs that are in need of replacement.
*Portable bathrooms that are being patched together and are to the point hundreds of kids using them day in and day out are making them more and more problematic to maintain.
Assessments of the condition of the 32 campuses in the Manteca Unified School District from experts in the fields of electrical engineering and roofing to observations that show things such as restroom issues, disintegrating flooring, and dry rot around windows reflect a $427 million districtwide need to address structural, facility, and grounds issues that exist now.
To address as much of that as they can, the school board has decided to ask voters March 3 to approve a $260 million bond not to build new school facilities but to simply make sure what is in place that serves 25,000 students can be brought up to acceptable standards. In sort, it is to spend pennies on the dollar of what new schools would cost to extend the life of facilities taxpayers already have a sizeable investment in.
The bond requires 55 percent of votes cast to be in the affirmative to be approved. It will impose a tax of $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. That means if your home has an assessed value under Proposition 13 of $300,000, you would pay an additional $180 a year in taxes.
New Haven also has something that no other elementary campuses have — urinals in a boys’ restroom that require users to step up on an elevated section of flooring to use. Not only have they not been compliant for years with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they are a tripping hazard for those without ADA needs. Making the restroom even more problematic is the tile has become increasing difficult to clean as well as aging fixtures.
“Even if we wanted to do only some other work such as build a new multiple room state law now requires that bathroom issues that exist be addressed at the same time,” Bowers said.
At the same time if a school district wants to eliminate issues such as uneven pavement, it can no longer simply take care of the “worst segment”. All of an area that has problems needs to be addressed.
That would need to happen anyway as most of the older elementary schools built did not have proper base put in for playgrounds and such. Also most of the drainage issues are tied to the need to regrade large swaths of school campuses.
Some may ask why the school district hasn’t addressed the facility issues as the years have unfolded.
They actually have — at least as far as they could with available money. It is why the district has a number of portable classrooms that have a rated life expectancy of 20 years that are now closing on — and in some cases — exceeding 40 years. Those portables that still have “good bones” are among work targeted in Measure R to extend their life even farther.
The alternative — that is much less affordable – is to replace portables with permanent classrooms that can be built for as “low” as $125,000 apiece if eight or more are built in one spot at the same time.
The district sets aside 5 percent of its annual general fund for maintenance as opposed to the 3 percent the State of California recommends. About 85 percent of the $1.7 million goes to cover the cost of staff to do maintenance work. The remaining $500,000 plus is what is left to pay for materials or if they need to hire specialized help with items such as plumbing.
That money is spread across 32 school sites that get heavy use from nearly 27,000 students and staff every day.
Bowers noted community members surveyed by the district when it was weighing whether to prepare a bond measure stressed they wanted emphasis on “protecting what we have” so the district’s $1 billion plus investment in facilities won’t be compromised and require significantly more expensive replacement structures.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email@example.com