As superintendent of the Tooele County School District, I believe in transparency and accountability to the public and taxpayer. That is why I feel compelled to respond to John Hamilton’s guest opinion that was published last week in the Transcript Bulletin.
I want to clear up any possible misinformation regarding the current school improvement bond proposal. It is important to me, and to our board of education, that voters are well informed and base their decisions on facts — not solely on opinions or rumors.
First, Mr. Hamilton suggested that there was an excess of costs and some unnecessary features in our school buildings when compared with other public and private institutions.
Let’s look at the facts and actual numbers when comparing the charter school mentioned in Mr. Hamilton’s article with the actual numbers for Grantsville Elementary School. These buildings were built during the same basic time. The actual numbers are facts taken directly from the state transparency website under capital outlay reports for the past 10 years.
Grantsville Elementary School:
Construction costs: $11,068,711
Total square footage: 73,159
Cost per square foot: $175
Construction costs: $9,677,156
Total square footage: 52,936
Cost per square foot: $190
As you can see, TCSD spends less on average per square foot for construction when compared to other school districts and charter schools throughout the state of Utah. The costs per square footage figures are also in line with the private sector and well under most commercial construction projects.
It should be noted that since GES was built, construction costs have increased in all sectors. TCSD will continue to be frugal and fiscally conservative. For a full report on capital outlay reports by district and charter schools, please visit the state transparency website at http://finance.utah.gov/transpmandate/2-finance/108-transschool.html.
TCSD strives to always use the most cost-efficient means and methods available in construction and preventative maintenance of all public school facilities. We use the same design for elementary schools, with minor ongoing improvements, which saves on architectural and design costs. Our school buildings typically use more block masonry or hard surfaces on walls in corridors and high-traffic areas. Our building design provides more durable surfaces to provide a long life expectancy with little or no extra maintenance costs given the high wear and tear placed on our school buildings.
This comes at an extra cost initially, but saves money over the life of the building. Furthermore, this is the best way to ensure the highest standards in safety and protect the long-term investment of the taxpayers. When evaluating and comparing costs for total construction, it is important to look at land costs, permits, division of building safety requirements, site work, and the costs of furniture, fixtures and equipment (known as FF&E).
Second, Mr. Hamilton raises some good questions about increasing capacity at Tooele Junior High School.
We are not planning on replacing TJHS; we are looking at enhancing the existing building and increasing the student capacity. This is part of the plan to support the neighborhood feeder school concept. TJHS was built with good foresight for a long-lasting school. While this school is showing signs of wear, it still has many usable years of life left.
The building shows what can happen when you use quality and durable building materials at the start of the construction process. We are planning on a separate addition to be able to comply with all current building codes. The planned addition would allow us to incorporate more STEM opportunities into TJHS, and increase the ability to use technology in this building.
The current building does not meet all the current standards for building codes and, if the new addition is attached to the building, we will be required be bring the existing building up to all current codes. This would significantly increase costs. The plan involves construction of a separate wing to house 8-10 new classrooms close to the existing building. That way, we could incorporate this new addition into any future rebuilding plans. We estimate that there is another 20+ years of useful life left at the current building. TJHS is currently using 12 inefficient portable classrooms.
In conclusion, opinion articles provide great opportunities to educate the community and aid our continuing efforts of transparency and responsibility to our stakeholders. Tooele County School District proposes this school improvement bond to meet the future needs for student enrollment growth and facility upkeep in our schools and communities. We can all agree that we need to ensure that we have safe, secure, technology-supported schools to meet the needs of all of our students. The board of education used input from a patron advisory committee to develop the master facilities plan and the current bond proposal.
This bond is not about our board, our superintendent, our teachers, builders, architects, or to “keep up with the Joneses.” Instead, it’s about doing right by our students and the students who will enter these schools in the future by giving them a safe and optimal learning environment.
The responsible forethought we have exercised in the past, and continue to do so, was noted by Sen. Howard Stephenson in November 2008 in response to “A Performance Audit of School Building Construction.” He commented, “Fortunately there are a few Utah school boards that have utilized lower-cost tilt-up construction and ground source heating and cooling … Tooele has also emphasized lower-cost features.”
The $49M school bond is clearly not “splurge and splendor” as suggested by Mr. Hamilton. The facts support the conclusion that Proposition 2 is a prudent, transparent, and responsible long-range plan and investment in the youth and future of Tooele County. Our main goal has always been to provide the best possible educational opportunities for all students with respect to curricular and co-curricular programs. We are about continuing improvement of college and career readiness and academic preparation and success for each and every student.
There is another public meeting scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in the district office. The school district’s board of education and administration will be on hand to answer any questions and provide factual information. The school improvement bond election date is Nov. 3.
Rogers is superintendent for the Tooele County School District.