Schools need renovations, but money is scarce
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 5:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.
At Santa Fe High School, there aren't enough seats in the school's aging cafeteria to hold more than 500 students during lunch.
When it rains, Principal Bill Herschleb said, the school's approximately 1,000 students — even divided into "A Lunch" and "B Lunch" — have a difficult time crowding into the lunch room — or trying to find shelter under a covered walkway outside.
"The lunchroom is nowhere near the size it needs to be to support the size of the student body," he said.
According to an Alachua County Public Schools survey, more than $131.5 million is needed in renovations and construction over the next five years. But the district facilities director said that money isn't easy to come by.
Every five years, the state mandates that school districts perform an educational plant survey, which takes into account whether schools are able to be used and what upgrades are needed. The most recent survey was completed this year by a Tallahassee-based firm, Facilities Director Ed Gable said.
"The state wants to look at everything we want to be able to spend state money on," he said. "They want to make sure it's in the construction list."
The list includes nearly $4.9 million in renovations to Shell Elementary and covered walkways in drop-off areas at many schools.
"The average age of our schools is 32 years, and that means there's a lot of updated technology that we could do at every school," Gable said.
The only problem, Gable said, is finding the money.
"The bottom line on this is that it's way, way over what we'd be able to build in five years," he said. Suggested renovations alone come in at more than $95 million.
With the state Legislature making cuts to education funding, Gable said the district might be hard pressed to prioritize projects.
"The state's not giving us any new construction money," he said. "This is the first year they've not only given us no new construction money, but they've also given us no maintenance money. That's going to be a real issue."
Eastside High School is scheduled to receive a new heating and cooling system, but at a May School Board meeting it was reported that all bids came in too high.
Principal Jeff Charbonnet said he has been working to bring improvements to the 40-year-old high school.
"We've been on a two-year project of phasing in new ceilings and new classroom lighting," he said. "That has made the lighting better and made the classrooms more inviting places to learn."
If money would allow, Charbonnet said he would like to see the school receive updated science rooms.
"Some of our labs have become old and outdated, and although they are still serving their purpose, I think we could still expose students to the latest and greatest in technology if we were to update those areas," he said.
Herschleb, who was principal at Eastside for six years, said he can understand the sentiment. Santa Fe received an environmentally certified science lab in 2009. From the lighting down to the glue on the tiles, the lab is designed to make it a more comfortable learning area.
Comfort is essential in assisting with learning, Herschleb said.
Also included as possible projects are a new practice field and multipurpose court at Buchholz and a new track at Eastside.
"I don't know if we're ever really going to be able to prioritize an athletic track above an academic need," Charbonnet said, adding that a new track would serve students well.
Gable said finding the money for academic needs will be a challenge.
"We usually take a couple of million — as much as four in past years — and put it into capital maintenance, but it doesn't do much in terms of the educational plant survey," he said.
The School Board will learn more about the plant survey in July. Gable said that during the budget process, his department will present a list of projects for the upcoming year.
That could include the design of a new kitchen at Santa Fe High, roofing at J.J. Finley and new windows at Waldo Community School, Gable said.
He said he is hopeful the money can be budgeted.
But the money available is "not very much, though," he said.
Contact Jackie Alexander at email@example.com or 338-3166.