FWCS Building Update Project Will Cost $242M

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

November 9, 2011 Updated Nov 10, 2011 at 12:25 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) -- Updating Fort Wayne Community School Buildings could cost $242 million dollars. That could mean a rise in property taxes by $27 a year.

FWCS held its third of four public meetings at Harrison Hill Elementary Wednesday night to inform the community of the details surrounding the plan. School leaders were asking for public input on the best ways to go about renovating the buildings and general feedback on the project. Based on community feedback, FWCS leaders can vote to petition the project for 100 signatures. If they get the signatures, the project will be placed on a ballot for a vote.

FWCS leaders said updates desperately need to be done on all buildings, but the schools on the priority list are Harrison Hill Elementary and Snider High School. According to FWCS, the average building in the district is 54-years-old. Out of 51 school buildings only 19 of them have full functioning heating and air conditioning systems, leaving 32 with partial or no HVAC systems at all. Many of the boiler systems, like at Harrison Hills Elementary, are beyond their 35-year operating capacity. “Band-aids” have been used to repair many of the leaking pipes, and in other cases things cannot be repaired because the parts are no longer being manufactured.

Other than updating the HVAC and boilers, school officials said they want more modern and spacious classrooms, and update to energy efficient windows, lighting and electrical systems. Many things like stairs, doorways, and floors need minor repairs and other things, like the bleachers and bathroom entrances, do not meet the American Disability Act (ADA) standards.

Kathy Friend, Chief Financial Officer for FWCS, said these updates will create a better learning environment for students and ultimately create higher academic achievement for the district.

“Those are things that won’t necessarily be seen by the students, but without those improvements we could have situations where systems fail during the school year,” Friend said. “So I think it’s more about what could happen if those improvements don’t get taken care of.”

Lenny Duff has three children that attend Towles Intermediate School in the FWCS district. He said he is in favor of the project and would pay $270 dollars, instead of $27, in property taxes if it was best for his children. But Duff has concerns of how the money will be spent now and in the future.

“My main concern is that I want to make sure the dollars are being prioritized as far as schools. I want to know how they’re going to implement these changes and not disrupt the classroom,” Duff said.

Duff said he also wants to know how they’re going to save tax payer’s money.

I would imagine that in my own home when I put new windows and new doors, I do that because I have a pay back. I know f they save $50 million over 10 years then really the project only costs us $192 million, not $242 million.”

However, Duff questions whether the $242M investment is really worth it if the district has already made significant academic improvements without things like updated heating and air conditioning.

“I think the environment in which our children learn is important, but how important is air conditioning or stabilization of temperature in the schools?” Duff said. “It’s not unimportant, but I don’t know how it translates into better learning…Look at the incremental improvement we've made the last two years in Fort Wayne Community Schools AYP. That was done without any Capital Project money. It's the same school it was two years ago.”

But Friend said students should have that expectation to have a comfortable learning environment when they come to school.
“Some classrooms vary by 20 degrees if you're sitting by the window or sitting by the door,” Friend said. “So it's difficult to know how to dress to go to school, and that's just really not fair for our students.”

FWCS will hold a final public information meeting Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Snider High School. The meeting to vote on petitioning will be Nov 21.

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