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New Berlin has a school facilities plan, but three issues could heavily impact it

Nov. 5, 2012

New Berlin - Three issues could conceivably impact a New Berlin facilities maintenance plan that is in the works now and will affect local schools for years to come, the district's chief financial and operating officer told the School Board recently.

That's why Roger Dickson will ask the School Board on Monday whether it wants to study those issues further so they don't throw the district's plans out of whack.

The three question marks

One of those issues is whether to split New Berlin's two middle/high schools into one high school and one middle school. Another is whether each middle/high school would keep its own sports teams with their own fields. The third is whether the schools and city should chip in on a single "Class A" type athletic complex that would be shared by the schools and the city.

To make sure hitches don't arise later down the road, Dickson will ask the board if it is comfortable for now with the status quo concerning those issues. His assumption is the board favors no change, but he wants board members to confirm his assumption.

If the board decides any of the three facility questions need to be studied, the district's current plans would have to take that into account.

If no studies are needed, the next step will be to get more solid cost estimates for the list of maintenance projects highlighted by the consultant IFF in its facilities report submitted last fall.

A costly plan, as is

While the pinpointed projects on the IFF report totaled an estimated $22.6 million, the school has gone on to work with contractors, knowing that their estimates would be higher.

And they were. The contractors came in at $32.6 million.

The real cost is somewhere in between, Dickson said.

But in any case, Dickson said, "I'm not coming to the board with $32 million of projects."

Of the IFF $22.6 million, $6.4 million would be for Eisenhower Middle/High School, which has had no major work done on it since it was built in 1969, Dickson said. West Middle/High School would get $4.9 million; Poplar Creek Elementary, $2.2 million; Orchard Lane Elementary, $2.1 million; Elmwood Elementary, $1.1 million; Ronald Reagan Elementary, $841,859.

Setting priorities

With such a large price tag, the many proposed projects will initially be prioritized. Top priority will be projects involving health, safety and compliance with building codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act and federal Title 9 that, among other things, requires girls and boys to have equal access to athletics.

Individual projects can get moved higher or lower on the list as the board considers the plan, he said.

Assuming the board maintains the status quo on those three other issues, Dickson said he hopes to have a detailed plan to the School Board in January.

Public input would be sought in February through April, a preliminary School Board decision would be made in June, public comment from July through September and then a decision would be made on whether to go ahead, Dickson said.

Now's the time

There is some urgency for the district to move forward to get a start on its list of millions of dollars of maintenance projects, Dickson said, noting that historically low interest rates may not last much longer.

The Federal Reserve has built in low interest rates for 2013, but if the fed takes its hand away, rates could well shoot up, Dickson said.

"When they blow they'll probably blow big-time," he said.

If the schools borrow $10 million now, which is less than half what they need for the multi-year maintenance program, the additional cost would be roughly $20 more per year for the average home, Dickson estimated. But several financing options besides borrowing are being explored. (See sidebar story.)

- Jane Ford-Stewart

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