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Board finalizing how Measure B money to be spent

Heather Steere, a specialist on school renovation, speaking before the school board on May 2. Photo by Steve Wathen

For the school board, deciding which projects to do and when to do them can be maddeningly complicated.

Each time bonds are put up for sale by Plumas Unified School District, and the district will be doing this several times over the next few years, the money raised is for work to be accomplished over the next three or more years.

However, it is difficult to know when the money will actually be needed. In addition, the board doesn’t want to pay interest on money borrowed before it can be spent on renovations. Therefore, knowledge and timing are everything.

Heather Steere is a specialist on school renovation and construction with Capital Public Finance Group. With 10 years experience in building school facilities, she provides advice to school districts in master planning, government negotiations and construction.

Steere told the school board at its May 2 meeting that anything involving structural changes that requires an architectural or engineering design needs signoff by the California Division of the State Architect. She said this takes approximately six months.

Consequently, many major projects, such as roofing and upgrading electrical systems, which will actually consume most of the bond money raised, won’t get started until 2018 or later.

For instance, Steere said reconstruction of the Quincy High School playing field, although a high priority for the school, would probably take at least three years to accomplish.

In addition, she pointed out, projects costing over $15,000 have to be put up for bid, which can also take six months.

Finally, all projects have to be put out for bid early enough that contractors can set aside crews to do the work during the busy construction season.

Steere reported that even though the school district is “leaps and bounds” ahead of most other districts in the state in getting started, “we are already behind the eight ball” as far as getting most projects going this year.

Surprises

Steere also reported that it is common that once old buildings are opened up to begin renovations that “you find things you never expected.”

Maybe the roof is of a different type of construction than the blueprints show. This is because original building plans are often grossly inaccurate or were not followed accurately.

Consequently, projects have to be changed, in terms of time and money, in response to what is found.

Steere said, “I’m not an architect. I’m not an engineer. I don’t even play one on TV, but these things happen.”

Updating codes throughout

In addition, the state requires that when part of a building is updated, the whole building has to be updated to comply with current building, accessibility, lighting, bathroom and fire codes.

Not only that, parking lots and walkways leading to the building have to be updated as well.

Steere summarized, “It is incredibly painful to build a school in California.”

Public perceptions

Board members realize, however, that a common perception of the public is that once a bond is passed they could expect to see results right away.

The board feels the need to show progress by doing things that don’t require a lot of lead time and that make school campuses “look pretty,” such as painting walls and hanging drapes in windows. Indeed, new paint was one of the highest priorities expressed by the public.

At the same time, the board does not want to be criticized for wasting money, should a wall or window need to be taken out later as part of a major renovation.

Board President Leslie Edlund proclaimed that she would rather have to defend taking the time to do things right, than to have to defend having done things wrong.

Board member Traci Holt added, “I want to get the best value for the dollar even if it takes us a little longer.”

Board member Dwight Pierson, the only one on the board who has gone through such major renovations before, chimed in, “We need to do what is most cost effective in the long run.” “For this,” he said, “we need to study what the best practices are in school construction and renovation.”

Steere, noting that much of the bond money will be spent on roofing, upgrading electrical systems, updating heating systems and providing for student and staff health and safety concluded: “A lot of the projects aren’t pretty projects, but they will save your buildings.”

She added, “The district has so many needs and has had them for so long, that asking ‘What are your highest priorities?’ is like asking a parent: ‘Tell us which of your starving children you want to feed first.’”

Equal spending does not equal best spending

Buildings in some parts of the district need more care than others in order to bring them up to par.

For instance, Steere pointed out that the roofs of the school buildings in Greenville are in good shape. Whereas, almost all of the roofs at the high school in Quincy need replacing.

To alleviate some of this sting, the board is hoping to allocate money, perhaps $100,000, for use at each school site regardless of overall priority.

More discussion needed

In the end, the board decided they needed more time to discuss the priority list put together by Steere and district staff before voting on it.

Pierson spoke for the entire board when he told the administration, “We need to spend more time discussing this.”

Realizing it was also essential to get architects onsite to start drawing up plans, Pierson added, “We need to invest the time in the next couple of weeks.”

A heavy burden

The board members have repeatedly expressed their desire to do right by the citizens of Plumas County in spending the money raised under Measure B.

Holt said, “This is an economically depressed community without a lot of excess money, so we have to do this right.”

Steere reassured the board, “You are being very diligent with your taxpayers’ money. I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Repayments by the state

Steere informed the board that it may take three-plus years before the state gives the district its matching grants from Prop. 51, also passed in 2016.

She noted that there are districts still waiting for money from previous state bond issuances. These districts will be funded before districts get matching funds from Proposition 51.

Steere advised the board that the district needs to move ahead and “get on the list.”

The district’s first bond issuance

The first bonds from Measure B are scheduled to be sold by the district on May 18, with the district receiving the money on June 7.

The administration is proposing to spend the following amounts on renovations in the next three years: $3.3 million in 2017, $3.1 million in 2018 and $9.9 million in 2019.

The district will be prepaying a third of its 30-year loans within the first two years of getting the money in order to reduce overall interest payments.

The district also refinanced what is left of 2002 Measure A loans in order to save $732,000 in interest.

The maximum increase in the property tax rate because of Measure B is $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. The tax increases for Measure A and Feather River College were $30 and $25 per $100,000 of assessed value, respectively.

The ratio of the amount borrowed to the amount repaid for the 30-year Measure B bonds is estimated to be 1:1.54. The difference is interest.

Choosing an architect

The district interviewed five architectural firms and chose three to begin developing basic master agreements with.

The master agreements are necessary in order to speed up the process of getting architects onboard. Details for a specific project will be added to the master agreement.

Different architectural firms may be used for different projects, depending on their individual specialties.

Pierson said, “There is nothing more important than working with a good architect and engineer. I can tell you right now, as an old superintendent, I can work with any of these firms.”

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