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Aging school facilities have costly needs
EU portables
Almost one out of every three of the 1,400 classrooms in the Manteca Unified School District is portables. Shown are a line of portable classrooms at East Union High.

Two months into the fiscal year termites have already taken a serious chunk out of the deferred maintenance budget for the Manteca Unified School District.

District crews were repairing tile flooring at French Camp School and came across termites. Upon further inspection the termite damage was extensive.

The needed repairs came to $40,000. The deferred maintenance budget for the year is $180,000.

“Almost a third of the deferred maintenance budget,” noted Manteca Unified District of Operation and Facilities Director Aaron Bowers.

That means $140,000 through June 30 will be left to cover any unexpected issues that arise across 30 campuses.  That would cover things such as carpet wearing out, roofs needing to be replaced, cracks and holes in pavement that need fixed, air conditioning units that go out and have to be replaced and such.

The district — with over 1,400 classrooms along with other support buildings such as offices, gyms, cafeterias, libraries and more — has in excess of 1,600 HVAC units. With many units past 20 years of age and the replacement costs pushing $10,000 apiece, 14 air conditioning units going out would wipeout the rest of the remaining deferred maintenance budget.

Where some of that $140,000 will be going for sure is a new roof for the aging ag building at Manteca High. Several weeks ago district workers making a requested repair came across extensive roof damage.

The state mandates 3 percent of a school district’s general fund — Manteca Unified overall spending is $267.8 million — to be budgeted for deferred maintenance. Of the set aside $8 million covers the salaries and benefits of the staff needed to do maintenance work on the 30 school campuses. Another $1.8 million buys the materials those workers needed to patch roofs, repair flowing, fix plumbing, and a multitude of maintenance issues.

That $1.8 million also needs to cover projects that the district maintenance lacks the skills to do such as a substantial water pipeline failure several years back at Shasta School. In those cases the projects have to be put out to bid.

Funds that have been set aside in the past were more robust based on state mandates. But in previous financial crisis the state cutback on its funding and allowed districts to reduce set aside funds in order to keep funds flowing to the classroom.

The district simply can’t put aside enough money to cover the cost of replacing roofs, HVACs, carpeting, plumbing, electrical service and such as they wear out.

To underscore what the district is up against, 11 campuses are 50 years or older. Between 25 elementary schools, five comprehensive high schools, and other education sites such as continuation schools, the district has close to $2 billion worth of facilities in terms of replacement cost.

In addition almost one of every three of the 1,400 classrooms in the district is portables.

Some — such as the portable classrooms that constitute the entire Neil Hafley School campus — are closing in on their 40th year of being used. Only a handful of portables classrooms are less than 20 years old.

The significance of those numbers are amplified given portable classrooms have a rated life expectancy of 20 years.

The $260 million Measure A bond on the Nov.  3 ballot that emphasizes the three “R”s — repair, renovate, and revitalize — aims to make sure at least another 20 years of use can be squeezed out of as many portables as possible.

Passage of Measure A would provide the district funds to address the most pressing maintenance needs among the portables along with permanent structures, grounds, and “invisible” infrastructure such as water pipes and electrical wiring.

The top priority is to address the oldest campuses with the biggest needs.

The school bond caps the cost to property taxpayers to $45 per $100 per assessed value. That’s a far cry from March when the bond failed to reach the 55 percent threshold needed for approval. The cap was $60 per $100 at the time.

The difference is the more favorable bond market due to the pandemic as well as the district’s financial rating being considered extremely appealing when compared to most other school districts and government agencies such as cities and counties.

And given the last series of the Measure M bonds ended up costing property owners $37 instead of $60 per $100,000 in assessed evaluation, the chances are good if the bonds are approved the actual cost to homeowners and other property owners will be less than $45 per $100,000 evaluation.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email