Referendum would give $1 million a year to maintain buildings
By Ben Rodgers
Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final part of a series that examines the upcoming April 3 referendum for the Howard-Suamico School District. This article reviews the facilities needs for the district.
SUAMICO – Anyone who has ever owned a home knows the importance of preventive maintenance.
The Howard-Suamico School District is at a crossroads currently when it comes to maintaining the schools that house the districts’ students and teachers.
“Because the state funding system doesn’t inherently provide enough flexibility in revenue on its own for any district to possibly cover, proactively, their facilities needs, the tool provided is the referendum and what happens to so many districts is that downward spiral,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “You take a crack and find some other revenue, whether it’s a debt question, or operational. If you don’t succeed you start that downward spiral. You never catch up on those facilities needs.”
For the past two years HSSD has placed an emphasis on using what revenue it has to better pay teachers, where it still lags behind other peer districts.
What’s on the horizon is a need that grows every year and not enough money to keep up, Spets said.
He compared it to a homeowner who uses every cent of his or her pay on the mortgage. When the roof on that home needs replacing, what is the homeowner left to do?
“We’ve decided on compensation and staff being more important than buildings for two years,” Spets said. “What we’re saying now is we wouldn’t be able to do that a third time. We’d have to rethink our question.”
HSSD is home to nine buildings, with the oldest being built in 1954. The average age of buildings in the district is more than 36 years.
“Where we connect with the taxpayers is they can relate to maintaining their own home,” said Al Behnke, director of facilities service. “Whether they’re a renter or a taxpayer, they understanding property maintenance. I think that’s the connection, they know every 20 to 25 years they’re going to need to do something with their roof, every seven years they’re going to need to do something with their furnace, they check their water heater annually. I think the average person can relate to building maintenance very well actually.”
In 2016 the district had an independent consultant complete a total building needs study that details the best time to replace certain items.
Right now one of the main concerns for Behnke is the roof at Forest Glen Elementary School, built in 1990.
“There’s a condensation issue and it can be very disruptive at certain times of the year in the classroom environment,” he said.
When a frosty mug is taken out of the freezer and placed on the counter, the mug begins to sweat. That’s the same thing happening at Forest Glen.
“It can be very disruptive, like it’s raining in the classroom, literally,” Behnke said.
Bay View Middle School, built in 1963, is also in need of roof work. Just to fix of couple of sections on the roof could cost up to $300,000.
“A lot of times the choice is between people and things and of course because teaching is our main focus, it’s people. Repairs oftentimes can get pushed off,” Behnke said.
Aside from maintaining learning environments, facilities maintenance money is also used on items like parking lots.
Last summer the parking lot at Lineville Intermediate School was redone and as a result it helped reduce traffic congestion on Lineville Road and Cardinal Lane.
Behnke said that project will have more work done this summer.
Even Bay Port High School, built in 2000, is having some issues.
“People look at the high school as the flagship of the district and it is,” Behnke said. “It’s pretty well maintained, but its almost 20 years old. The roof warranty has ended. I’m not saying it’s failing apart, but we have replaced carpeting and have started the replacement of additional carpeting in the building.”
Behnke said the district is taking proactive measures where and when it can.
One example is the replacement of mechanical units that run motors at Bay Port. Because a dozen have failed, they will all be getting replaced, Behnke said.
If passed, what the April 3 referendum would do is give the district an additional $1 million a year for five years for facilities maintenance.
Behnke said this would allow the district to tackle more things that would be considered preventive along with a few major projects each year.
‘I’m just the steward of the time for the facilities,” he said. “It’s really the community’s facilities; it’s really the educational space that their kids are going to.”
Behnke said having the current long-term facilities maintenance plan makes things easier as well.
Currently any projects related to school safety will be given priority, but after that there is a roadmap in place for what needs to be done.
“We know what we need to do, now we just need the funds to be able to it,” Behnke said.
The vote on April 3 would allow to district to exceed the revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years.