The 53-year-old Ripon Elementary campus is showing its age and then some.
Windows have started to separate presenting the Ripon Unified School District with a $250,000 “must fix” dilemma given replacing the windows in one fell swoop would essentially more than wipe out funding available for districtwide maintenance. The result is the district is replacing the worst windows as they can afford to do so.
Next door at Ripon High — that also has aging facilities including portable classrooms that have long passed their life expectancy — is struggling to provide the facilities needed so students can have as effective as possible 21st century Science Technology Electronics and Math (STEM) education, as well as an up-to-date career technical education offering.
District Superintendent Ziggy Robeson noted that modernizing Ripon High — as well as addressing safety and security issues — is critical given the campus is highly unlikely to be replaced. At one point the district had explored a new campus and converting Ripon High into a middle school.
Robeson said trustees — as well as the staff and community — are unwilling to tinker with a formula of smaller kindergarten through 8th grade campuses of roughly 400 or so students that has been producing solid academic results. There is also the question of the cost of a new campus. Duplicating what Ripon High has elsewhere would cost at least $120 million. And even then if a middle school strategy was used the high school buildings still need to be maintained and modernized if they were turned into a seventh through ninth grade campus.
Those are just two issues Ripon Unified is dealing with when it comes to facility needs to serve existing students. Toss in equipment replacement as well as large curriculum purchases and the unfunded list of pressing needs is almost $40 million.
It has prompted the school board to start exploring how to address those issues before they get worse and/or start impacting the quality of the education program. The only viable option is asking voters to pass a school bond.
Trustees may decide in the coming months whether to place a measure on the March 2020 ballot or the November 2020 special election.
Particularly problematic are portable classrooms at Ripona Elementary and Ripon High that have long passed their expected usefulness and are being kept functional by an aggressive maintenance effort to stretch the life of the portables. But like portable classrooms replaced at Weston Elementary School with the proceeds from the last bond, it is what you don’t see that is creating problems.
“The portables at Ripona appear presentable when you walk into them,” Robeson said.
But as Andy Strickland, Director of Facilities, notes, the problem is with what you don’t see. The portables put in place at Ripona School more than 30 years ago were manufactured to be used for 15 years. The age of the structures that make extensive use of press board shows from deteriorating wood siding and leaking roofs to other issues. They also are not designed to handle the electrical load of modern classrooms that make extensive use of computers and other electronics.
The cost to replace portables with stick and mortar classrooms at Ripona is pegged at $4.5 million. The tab at Ripon High is $3.9 million.
It will cost the school district close to $500,000 to build a traditional 960-square-foot classroom. The option of replacing them with portables isn’t cost effective due to demolition and site work needed plus the actual cost of the portable makes it close in price to that of a standard classroom with a life expectancy less than half of a regular classroom.
Modernizing Ripona School that was built 54 years ago is a $10.5 million proposition. It has aging roofs needing replacement, cracked playground asphalt including areas that pose serious tripping hazards, restrooms in need of renovation, half century plus old electrical wiring and old windows that benefit PG&E handsomely at the expense of taxpayers.
The district has tried to address the most pressing issues in areas such as the bathrooms as best as they could with what they could afford — Band-Aid style work — after a $38.5 million bond issue failed in November 2018
Robeson said there is also the issue of parity that non-modernized facilities can create with as school’s ability to execute education programs as effectively as possible. Park View School, the district’s newest campus, as well as Colony Oak and Weston that were upgraded significantly thanks to the last bond issue — are capable of serving the needs of a 21st century education program.
“The schools (Ripon, Ripona and Ripon High) are the three oldest in the district and need to be brought up to 21st century education standards,” Robeson said.
At Ripon High that includes the need for a new science lab as well as reconfiguring the Career and Technical Education Building.
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