Vote will influence school improvements
By ANDREA FURLONG
The results of a Physical Plant Equipment Levy (PPEL) vote planned for this spring will help determine what building improvements will be made within the Williamsburg School District.
At a meeting held Jan. 13, Williamsburg School Board members discussed proposing a PPEL of $1.34 per $1,000 of taxable valuation to voters this April. If passed by a simple majority, the levy would generate $3.5 million in 10 years – just enough to add first grade and kindergarten classrooms to Mary Welsh Elementary. Currently, Mary Welsh services all elementary students, except for those in K-1 grades. Superintendent Dr. Carol Montz pointed out several renovations will need to be made to Williamsburg Elementary if the district continues using it.
“The issues with heating and cooling . . . if we’re going to maintain that building, definitely something with the cooling of that southern wing would need to looked at. And the parking lot needs to be redone,” Montz said.
Montz estimated 65 percent of the building is air-conditioned. She also noted the district spends nearly twice as much ($2.07 per square foot) to heat Williamsburg Elementary as it does to heat Mary Welsh.
Structural changes that are badly needed, according to Montz, include replacement of all the windows, tuckpointing and sidewalk repairs. In addition, the entire kitchen is in need of renovation.
“I’m not sure what that cost would be, but I think minimally, if you’re looking at new flooring, replacing equipment in the kitchen, lowering the ceiling and new lighting, we’re probably talking $60,000 to $70,000,” Montz said.
Montz questioned if the district should continue investing in an aging building or focus on improvements to the more energy-efficient and newer Mary Welsh Elementary.
“We’re talking about considerable funds, which might be as much as 25 percent of a new project, and in the end, you still have an old building,” she said.
Board members said of the structural developments the district is considering, including repairs to the high school, renovations to the high school auditorium and a new gym, the closure of Williamsburg Elementary should be a priority and should be financed through a PPEL, if possible.
“I think it’s important for the public to have some input and this is probably the best approach for getting that,” said board member Dianne Foley.
If the public approved the $1.34 PPEL, the district could shift K-1 grades to Mary Welsh, as well as make $8.2 million worth of renovations to the high school building through the sale of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) bonds.
Montz noted while the budgets of many district taxpayers may be tight, now is an opportune time for schools to build.
“You might be able to do more with your money now in terms of both bidding and interest rates,” she said.
Board member Mark Armstrong agreed.
“Economically, it’s bad timing for asking for more money. Building-wise it’s a great time with all the construction people that are looking for work,” he said.
The board verbally agreed to set an April date for a special PPEL vote at its next meeting.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
• Montz notified the board all of its bond issues will be paid off by June 30, thanks to a “generous benefactor.” The board estimated the district is carrying at least $10 million of debt.
• Curriculum director Michael Jepsen said the high school has received positive feedback from Grant Wood Area Education Agency for increasing student engagement in lessons.
• The board approved supporting a federal grant under development called the Race to the Top Grant, reserving the right to withdraw its support at any time. The district could receive up to $60,000 from the grant.
The next board meeting will be held at Williamsburg High School Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 6:30 p.m
UPDATED January 27, 2010 12:01 PM