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Plum plans school renovations

| Saturday, June 7, 2008

Plum School District district officials say four of the district's five elementary schools need upgrades, big and small, to bring them up to building safety codes and up to date.

The school board and administrators have been working on a five-year maintenance plan for those buildings for more than a year. The district has hired L. Robert Kimball and Associates as the architect for a building feasibility study.

Regency Park, Holiday Park, Pivik and Adlai elementary schools all need varying degrees of work. Only Center Elementary School has been updated.

Kimball will evaluate the needs at each building and prioritize the projects for the board. If the district hires Kimball to do at least $2 million in construction work, the $20,000 study fee will be reimbursed.

There are a number of areas in the four buildings that do not meet the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Most also have limited access to electrical outlets and some have leaky roofs.

The five-year plan will be funded, in part, by the district's budget surplus.

The district expects to finish the just-ended school year with a $1 million surplus, in addition to the roughly $6 million the district has from previous budget surpluses.

About $3 million of that will go into the capital improvement fund for the five-year plan if the 2008-09 budget plan stays the same.

The exact amount the board will put toward the five-year maintenance plan will be determined when votes on next school year's budget June 24.

A 4 percent property tax discount, proposed by board finance chairman Tom McGough, would cost the district about $1 million. It would give each property owner about $100, but would lower the capital improvement fund to about $2 million.

The 4 percent discount was touted as a way of giving about $1 million back to taxpayers in light of three consecutive years of over-budgeting and what some say was an unnecessary 1-mill tax increase.

The majority of the board would rather reinvest the money by maintaining the district's elementary buildings now instead of borrowing money and paying interest in the future.

Kimball plans to develop a feasibility study the district can use as a road map through the renovation process. The company will hold focus groups and explore its options before giving the board its final report.

The renovations will not be cosmetic; they will deal with basic structural and infrastructure issues.

At Pivik Elementary, the computer lab has been inserted into the library, cutting the library space in half. Because there is no wall separating the two spaces, there are two teachers conducting separate classes within several feet of each other.

Most classrooms have one electrical outlet. So teachers have to use multiple extension cords to get electricity to all sides of the room. When Pivik was built as a high school, teachers didn't have to worry about plugging in computers.

Children in wheelchairs or those who have physical challenges can't get into the Pivik auditorium without help. There is a ramp, but it doesn't meet ADA requirements because it's too steep for a child to control a wheelchair. The only other access point has stairs.

"There is no way to access all areas of the school if a student is in a wheelchair or on crutches," Adlai Principal Jason Knisely said.

At Pivik, the hot and cold water pipes are exposed above a stairwell and are held in place by metal fasteners that have rusted.

"I don't know that any money has gone toward the upkeep of the older buildings, which depreciate faster," said Pivik Principal Gail Yamnitzky. "The district always addresses safety issues as they arise, but aside from painting two years ago, not much else has been done."

The buildings don't have the capacity for advanced technology because the infrastructure isn't there.

Yamnitzky said there are things that Pivik has that other elementaries don't have, such as an art room. But, Pivik's art room isn't ADA accessible.

Holiday Park children take band lessons in the cafeteria, and the nurse's room is in a storage closet.

Kindergarteners with physical challenges and those in wheelchairs can't go to Pivik because the kindergarten area is not accessible to them.

Adlai and Holiday Park have heating and cooling issues. Teachers can't control the temperature in their classrooms at Adlai and early fall and late summer temperatures cause muggy rooms at Holiday Park.

Kristie Linden is a staff writer for the Advance-Leader in Plum.

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