Report estimates $20M for school fixes

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Preliminary scope and budget reports compiled for Union Memorial and Porters Point schools found a full renovation would cost around $10 million per building.

The district is now weighing two options: renovating the schools and reconfiguring them from their K-2 structure to include preschool through second grade, or building a new facility to house preK-2 district-wide.

Although no numbers have been finalized and the district is still in the early stages of considering its options, the assessment, conducted by Black River Design, analyzes the infrastructure of each building and highlights critical needs.

The report also lists estimated costs associated with different renovation scopes: reduced, full and like new. The estimated total renovation costs per building – Porters Point is slightly lower than Union Memorial – is based on full renovation estimates.

The architectural firm, represented by architect and partner John Hemmelgarn, presented their findings to the school board at its March 7 meeting.

“The biggest conclusion that we came to was that both of those buildings are small,” he said. “It’s about 96.5 square feet per student at Union Memorial School and 114.5 at Porters Point. I would say that anything under about 130 is low.”

Although Hemmelgarn said Union Memorial’s ratio is the lowest he’s ever seen, he said the crux of the issue in both facilities is not classroom size but rather the lack of gymnasiums. At both schools, the cafeteria doubles as a gym.

Custodians, PE teachers and cafeteria staff periodically rearrange the spaces throughout the day depending on scheduled activities. Long, folded tables are often used as makeshift barriers during gym classes.

“We are limited in both of those spaces as to when we can offer for PE,” CSD superintendent Amy Minor said. “It’s just not efficient. That is our largest space concern.”

Although using a cafeteria as a gym is not unheard of, especially in buildings with younger students, Hemmelgarn said this isn’t common practice in schools with more than 200 students.

“It’s a funny space without any walls, and it’s got no sound separation,” he said. “It’s a very abnormal situation, and you’re certainly over 200 [students].”

The firm suggests building a 2,000-square foot multi-purpose room with a soft floor as a possible solution, accounting for $600,000 of the approximately $10 million needed for a full renovation.

The roof and roofing insulation, as well as the exterior walls and air barriers – major parts of the buildings’ envelopes – were marked as critical areas at both schools.

According to the assessment, the 25-year-old membranes are no longer warrantied, ceiling insulation is inconsistent and certain aspects of the air barrier – which regulates incoming and outgoing airflow – are not compliant with energy code.

At Union Memorial, Hemmelgarn said his team found a handful of mechanical closets that house air-handling units that were unplugged, preventing fresh air from coming into the building.

Despite this, Hemmelgarn said his team did not record any unordinary or alarming CO2 readings. Hemmelgarn also pointed to dipping ceiling tiles throughout the buildings as evidence the air barriers are no longer effective.

“In the summers you get lots of hot, humid air that comes into the building. It’s absorbed by those ceiling tiles; they get heavier and then they sag in the middle,” Hemmelgarn said. “Then winter comes and it all dries out but those ceiling tiles keep the shape where they stretched.”

Domestic water piping and plumbing fixtures and fittings were labeled on Black River Design’s assessment as crucial focus areas. The report cites copper piping, which typically has a 40-year lifespan, as exceeding its dependability age.

“Buildings that have piping that’s about that old will start to get leaks here and there. At some point it makes sense to over haul that piping,” Hemmelgarn said.

The report says most fixtures are original pieces and not ADA-compliant. The firm proposes the district completely replace all of its copper piping – a project architects estimate would cost $91,000.

“It’d be tough to operate a school even if the pipes in one room burst,” school board member Craig Kieny said.

The firm also considered building security, an area that raised red flags on the architectural firm’s radar since both have unsecured reception areas.

Without an appropriate lobby, school officials cannot properly screen guests, visitors or parents coming into the buildings, Hemmelgarn said.

He also noted neither school has a security system with cameras or alarms, making it harder to monitor people in the school.

The report also mentions the abundance of exterior doors, which Hemmelgarn said are often held open during the summer months, leaving classrooms and students vulnerable.

“It used to be that the building code encouraged that because if the fire alarm goes off, all those kids can get out that door,” he said. “But it makes me nervous these days having all these exterior doors that I see propped open.”

Hemmelgarn also considered asbestos, which he said isn’t a “dangerous situation” but one the board should address with an extensive survey.

The district’s asbestos consultant, who met with architects during the assessment, doesn’t think there’s a large amount in either building, but Hemmelgarn said it is impossible to tell exactly how much exists without a full survey.

“If you were going to move away from these buildings and you were going to try and sell it, someone is going to want to know how much asbestos is in there and where it is anyway,” he said.

Since the amount of asbestos is unknown at this point, the Black River Design did not approximate a price for abatement in the report.

Moving forward, Minor said the district will next form a committee to further evaluate the pros and cons of renovations and for building a new facility.

“The only way that conversation will happen is with a committee,” Minor said. “This will be our project for the next two years.”