02-15-12: Committee recommends facility improvements through 2024
02-15-12: Committee recommends facility improvements through 2024

Building new schools, adding classroom space to existing schools, updating technology, and purchasing land for future growth are among pressing facility and technology needs a committee has determined the district should address over the next 12 years.

The Citizens Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC), made up of students, community members, and educators, concluded six months of intensive research last month when it submitted its report at a Puyallup School Board study session.

“Never before has the district had such a backlog of unrealized facility needs,” the report states.

The report goes on to say that it has been eight years since voters last approved a school bond or capital levy. Voters narrowly rejected a bond measure twice in the 2007 elections. The community also rejected a bond and capital levy in the March 2009 election.

In addition to a pent-up demand of building facility projects, the report outlines a critical need to update technology for both students and staff. Most computers in use today were purchased seven years ago with money approved in the 2004 bond.

“The backlog of technology maintenance and replacement is rapidly approaching a tipping point after which all users will start experiencing unacceptable failure rates,” the report states.

Next steps

The school board took swift action in response to the committee’s report.

At the January 23 school board meeting, Executive Director of Education Support and School Operations Rudy Fyles provided a follow-up to the CFAC report, outlining possible next steps for the board to take.

“Time is of the essence when trying to get caught up on facility needs,” he said. “Preserving a possible February 2013 bond or levy election date is essential.”

The board agreed and directed staff to research and report back this month about how the committee’s recommended projects might be funded.

Among other things, staff will research how the projects could be packaged in a school bond, a capital levy, or both; the district’s bonding capacity (the maximum dollar amount of bonds the school district can request that voters consider in an election); the district’s assessed valuation now and projections for the future; and an estimated tax cost per thousand dollars of assessed valuation for a proposed bond and/or levy package.

Once that information is gathered, the board also discussed the possibility of commissioning a Bond Advisory Committee, as has been done in past years, to develop a detailed bond or levy election proposal.

By creating a bond or levy package by early summer, the board would have the option of scheduling a bond or levy election as early as spring 2013, Fyles said.

CFAC recommendations

The CFAC recommendations fit into three planning periods: 0-4 years (2012-2016), 4-8 years (2016-2020), and 8-12 years (2020-2024).

A copy of the committee’s 182-page report, including specific recommendations listed in each of the three four-year planning periods, is on the district website.

Rogers High senior and committee co-chair Brandi Greene presented the committee’s findings to the board along with Fyles. Emerald Ridge High senior Josh Gross also served as committee co-chair.

Greene illustrated some of the challenges of attending school on a crowded campus. She said it takes between 30 and 40 minutes, for example, for students to drive out of the one senior parking lot exit at the end of the school day.

Crowded conditions also exist in the hallways, she said, where students routinely bump shoulders during passing periods. The three student lunches, she said, are “jam-packed.”

Like Rogers High, crowded conditions also exist at Emerald Ridge and Puyallup high schools, which have more students enrolled than the campuses were built to serve.

Throughout their planning, the CFAC committee members have been mindful that there is another study committee that is exploring the idea of switching to a K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grade level configuration in this district.

As a result, the CFAC report recommends two scenarios: a list of facility needs for the 12 years if the district moves to a middle school grade configuration and another list of needs if it keeps its existing grade structure.

Some improvements, such as adding classroom space at the three comprehensive high schools, updating technology, and upgrading elementary school food service areas, are repeated in both scenarios.

The committee recommends building a fourth comprehensive high school to alleviate the congestion if the board decides to move to a middle-school grade configuration with four-year high schools.

“The committee struggled with the fact that the district’s needs, in both scenarios in the first planning period, were in excess of the bonding capacity (the maximum amount the district can ask voters to approve),” the report states.

In the final analysis, the committee included all of the projects “because this is a true reflection of the district’s backlog of needs given the failure of the 2007 and 2009 bond attempts.”

CFAC members were tasked last spring with considering new construction, program improvements, remodels/ replacements, life cycle improvements (improvements done prior to a complete remodel or replacement of a building or site), purchasing and/or identifying properties as surplus, and school consolidations.

The committee took a bus tour of the district, invited guest speakers, pored over maps, and read reports about enrollment projections and demographics.

Members also met weekly this fall to learn about district-owned properties, potential sites to build a fourth high school, options for expanding existing high schools, districtwide technology projects, remodel and/or school replacement projects, school boundaries, high school master plans, portable classrooms, and program needs specific to special education.

Puyallup is the ninth largest school district in the state based on its enrollment of more than 20,500 students. Geographically, the district encompasses 55 square miles.

Superintendent Tony Apostle called the committee’s work “extraordinary” and said the report is one of the best he has seen in the district. He added it is unprecedented to have two students co-chair such a major district committee.