Imagine sending your child to school every day not knowing whether the air conditioning in his school will work to cool him and others from the scorching Texas sun.
Or, whether his learning will be interrupted by the dripping of water into buckets from a leaky roof.
These concerns and many others play out on the Victoria school district’s aging campuses on a regular basis.
Maintenance workers stay busy making repairs. In many cases the equipment is too old and has to be piece milled to be repaired.
The Victoria school board is proposing a $91-million bond that would fund most major repairs on the district’s campuses. Officials admit it won’t cover all the maintenance needs, but it is a start.
Voters will decide the outcome of this proposition and three others in a special bond election on Nov. 2.
Without a bond, the district will not have the money to fix major problems. The board would need to look at cutting programs to afford temporary fixes to facilities, school board President Mike Mercer said at a recent board meeting.
“These needs are critical,” he said. “These aren’t something we’re making up.”
We agree. Time is up on patchwork roofs, piece-milled HVAC units and outdated plumbing. It is time to replace these worn out, but vital parts, of the district.
The biggest ticket item on the list, estimated at $27.5 million, is replacing worn out heating and air conditioning units (HVAC).
An HVAC unit has an average life span of 10-15 years, but many on the school campuses are coming up on 20 years of service. Some of the units are so old that parts are no longer made for them, leaving the maintenance department staff to make the parts.
Another big-ticket item is roof replacements, estimated to cost $24.2 million. A leaky roof disrupts the teaching and learning process, not to mention offers potential for health issues to develop. It can also ruin equipment in the classroom.
In May during the early days of a long rainy period, the school district reported 24 roof leaks district wide. The district has a serious roof problem.
The bond proposal will also include repairs to electrical, plumbing, safety and security systems, windows, gas lines, paving, accessibility/code, kitchens and building envelope.
All of these projects are considered capital improvements and, by law, must be funded by bonds. The proposal will not increase the tax rate. It would be funded in part through the Voter Approved Tax Rate Election, if approved.
Plus the district plans to spend about $12 million to $14 million of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund on the HVAC replacement. The funds are to be used to help the student achievement gap, but they can also be used to improve air quality. About 20% of the fund needs to be used in the classroom, and the rest is to be used at the discretion of the district. The district expects to receive $28 million to $29 million from that fund.
In the lead up to the May $156.8 million bond election, which voters turned down, the district’s maintenance department was criticized for not maintaining the buildings over the years. The department works throughout the year maintaining the campuses, performing maintenance on classrooms and buildings. During March the department received 640 work orders that can range from a simple light bulb replacement to an involved HVAC repair. Some repairs take longer than others as they have to wait for replacement parts to arrive or they have to hire an outside source, such as a plumber or an AC repairman, to do the work.
Any building that has as much use and foot traffic as a school has will have maintenance needs. Repairs can only be made on worn out equipment for so long before it must be replaced.
The district has reached the point where the patches are worn out and the equipment must be replaced for the health and safety of the students and employees.
The passage of Proposition B on Nov. 2 is an important step forward for the future of the school district and its students.