Yellow Ribbon Task Force studies options - December 12, 2006

Record Number: 2920
Displayed from: Dec 12, 2006 , until: Dec 24, 2006

RELEASED DEC. 12 - The price for upgrading Fort Wayne Community Schools' school buildings could range from $234 million to $995 million according to options presented to the district's Yellow Ribbon Task Force today. The lowest option, priced at $234 million, would upgrade the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems at all schools over the next 10 to 15 years, while the highest option would bring every school building up to modern standards, consolidate some schools to maximize operating efficiency and replace some of the district's oldest schools with new buildings. We know the $995 million number for the highest option is bound to cause 'sticker shock' in the community, said Dr. Wendy Robinson, FWCS superintendent. FWCS has 57 school buildings, and 74 percent of them are more than 40 years old. Even though our buildings are well cared for, building systems wear out over time and standards for school facilities change. We may not be able to afford to do all of the things in the most extensive option, but we thought it was important to take a 'big picture' look at what it would take to make our schools more comparable to what students in other districts have. For the most extensive option, the district's facility plan consultants were asked to estimate not only what it would cost to make needed infrastructure improvements to existing facilities, but also to estimate the costs for: Making all FWCS school facilities more suitable for the type of education provided today and for the foreseeable future Infrastructure needs that are likely to arise while the long-range facilities plan is being implemented (boilers, roofs, etc. that are functioning in 2006, but will need replacement in the next 10-15 years) Adding space for full-day kindergarten district-wide Putting all school facilities in nearly new condition, including making classrooms larger to accommodate technology Making schools more secure Expanding some elementary schools so cafeterias and physical education classes don't have to share space Air conditioning all schools Correcting problems with vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the buildings Improving playgrounds and the grounds around the schools. All options presented to the Yellow Ribbon Task Force included building a new science and technology center to prepare students for science and technology careers. Career programs currently housed at Anthis Career Center would move to the proposed new science and technology center. The Anthis Career Center building would be renovated for other district uses.
Business and community leaders are looking for well-trained workers for technology fields; a new FWCS science and technology center will be a tremendous asset for students and for Fort Wayne's economic development, said Robinson. All options presented at today's meeting include closing Elmhurst High School and Ward Education Center. It would be hard to justify spending the amount of money it would take to upgrade these buildings, especially when we know that Elmhurst may not be a viable site for a high school 10 years from now because of its proximity to a quarry, said Robinson. The Yellow Ribbon Task Force was presented with seven options for upgrading FWCS buildings over the next 10 to 15 years. These aren't the only options available for the Yellow Ribbon Task Force to recommend, said Wayne Schmidt of Schmidt Strategies, the firm assisting the district with the long-range facility planning process. They could combine elements from the options presented today, they could recommend doing just minimal infrastructure improvements, or they could recommend something in between the lowest and highest alternatives. We know that 'doing nothing' is not a serious option, said Robinson. Our buildings need attention, and the urgency to replace boilers and roofs will not go away. The $234 million price tag on the lowest option explains why it has been so difficult for the district to adequately maintain the infrastructure of so many aging buildings using just Capital Projects Funds. Regardless of which option the Yellow Ribbon Task Force recommends, the district will look at phasing the work over a 10 to 15-year period, for a number of reasons, including making the impact on taxpayers a gradual one. In addition to Elmhurst and Ward, schools under consideration for closing or consolidation under the various options are Bloomingdale, Nebraska, Washington and Pleasant Center elementary schools. Under two options, Weisser Park, Irwin, Harrison Hill and Scott Academy elementary schools and Jefferson and Lane middle schools would be replaced with new buildings. No decisions have been made to close schools, said Robinson. These are just options under consideration. If these options are recommended and approved by the board, the school closings and consolidations would happen over a period of years; there is no plan under consideration in which schools would close immediately. The facility planning process began with demographic and facility studies in 2005 and early 2006. The majority of FWCS buildings were constructed about 40 to 50 years ago when the baby boom generation entered school. The facility studies showed 85 percent of FWCS buildings needing at least some upgrades to infrastructure. District-wide statistics include: At least 58 percent of the buildings need to have heating and ventilation systems upgraded or replaced, At least 36 percent have roofs near or past the end of their estimated service life, At least 60 percent have plumbing systems beyond their estimated service life, At least 46 percent need new windows or have single-pane or un-insulated windows, and At least 25 percent of the schools need more electrical outlets or circuits. The community-based Yellow Ribbon Task Force Building will make a recommendation to the superintendent for a long range facility plan to be implemented over the next 10 to 15 years. The recommended option is expected to be presented for the school board to consider in February.

With nearly 30,000 students, Fort Wayne Community Schools is one of the largest school districts in Indiana. FWCS proudly allows families to choose any of its 50 schools through its successful school-choice program creating diversity in each school, including some with more than 75 languages spoken. FWCS offers seven magnet schools focusing on areas such as science and math, communication, fine arts or Montessori at the elementary and middle school level. In high school, students can choose from the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, Project Lead the Way or New Tech Academy as well as other rigorous academic and specialty training programs.