FWCS REFERENDUM – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VOTE

Question: What does the plan include?
Answer: Work will be done at 42 buildings to replace and improve aging infrastructure. The project focuses on the most serious needs in our buildings, including HVAC replacement, window replacement, roof replacement, safety improvements and other basic infrastructure improvements. The schools receiving extensive work are: Glenwood Park Elementary School, Washington Center Elementary School, Lindley Elementary School, Lane Middle School, Price Elementary School 8. Shawnee Middle School, St. Joseph Central Elementary School, Northrop High School, Waynedale Elementary School, Nebraska Elementary School.
In addition, 32 schools will receive other improvements, which may include the addition of air conditioning and replacement of temperature controls, replacement of window systems, partial roof replacements, security improvements, addition/modification of parent pick-up lanes or special projects.

Question: What is the cost of the project?
Answer: The total cost will be no more than $129,950,557.

Question: What will the tax impact be?
Answer: The tax rate will not exceed the current maximum tax rate of $0.3028 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Question: What if the project costs less than $129 million?
Answer: The amount of $129 million is the estimated cost of the project and the maximum amount we would be allowed to borrow. Once bids are received, we will know the actual amount needed. If the project is less expensive than the estimate, then we will borrow less and the impact to taxpayers will be less.

Question: When will the work be done?
Answer: Design on the projects will begin in the fall of 2016 with construction starting in 2017.

Question: Why can’t the District pay for repairs through the Capital Projects Fund?
Answer: There are 62 buildings, including 51 school buildings, in Fort Wayne Community Schools. The majority of our school buildings were built between 1950 and 1976, with 17 buildings constructed just in the 1960s. The buildings were put up quickly and cheaply to meet the demands of the Baby Boomer generation. While there was funding available to construct the building, the state did not establish a funding system to ensure all buildings could be adequately maintained. Instead, school corporations have relied on issuing bonds to address major building costs. Over time, as the roofs, HVAC systems and other infrastructure needed to be replaced, FWCS fell behind in its replacement schedule because a majority of buildings needed similar repairs at the same time. FWCS has addressed the most serious needs first and made major repairs as finances allowed. With a shrinking budget, however, the last major project FWCS could pay for with Capital Projects Funds was done in 2008 when Lakeside Middle School received a new HVAC system, new windows and other upgrades to make the building more energy efficient.

Question: What is the average age of FWCS school buildings?
Answer: The average age is 57 years old. The oldest school building is Anthis Career Center, which was built in 1902. The youngest school building is Miami Middle School, which was built in 1976.

Question: In what order will the work be done?
Answer: The buildings with the greatest needs will be done first, but we also have to look at the timeline of the buildings to determine the physical reality of the schedule.

Question: Why have there been no major projects paid out of Capital Projects since 2008?
Answer: Since 2008, the tax base of FWCS has declined 40 percent because of new property tax deductions approved by the State and the downturn in the economy. At the same time, the circuit breaker – or tax caps – went into effect, limiting the amount of property taxes the District can collect for funds including the Capital Projects Fund. The Capital Projects Fund is about $2 million less each year because of the tax caps. The fund has further been reduced because the state required school districts to set aside money to pay for retirement benefits. Taxes could not be raised to pay for this, so school districts had to reduce other funds supported by property taxes. For FWCS, that means about $2.3 million less each year for Capital Projects.

Question: Why does the Capital Projects Fund pay for insurance and utilities? Couldn’t that money be used for projects instead?
Answer: In 2004, the State decided to shift a portion of the cost for insurance and utilities from the General Fund, which at the time was primarily funded by the State, to local school districts. The State allowed school districts to collect additional property taxes in the Capital Projects Fund, but the additional funds can only be used for insurance and utilities. If the District does not need the money for insurance and utilities, it cannot use the money for another project.

Question: Why was the Capital Projects Fund cut to pay for academics costs through the Racial Balance Fund?
Answer: In 1989, FWCS entered into a desegregation settlement that included the establishment of a new fund called the Racial Balance Fund that would be used to pay for programs that encouraged equity throughout the district. When fund was established by state statute, it had to be tax neutral, meaning the district could not raise taxes to pay for it. The choice was between the General Fund, which pays for salaries, benefits and classroom expenses, and Capital Projects. At the time, the Capital Projects Fund was well-funded as the buildings had not yet reached a point where they needed major renovations, and the decision was made to reduce the amount of taxes collected in the Capital Projects Fund and move that money to the new Racial Balance Fund. Over the last 22 years, Racial Balance has supported the District’s popular magnet programs and other academic supports in the schools.

Question: What kind of cost savings has the district seen with past renovations?
Answer: Since the completion of projects included in Phase 1 of the REPAIR program we have realized an average of 20% reduction in energy costs. This is a net reduction that also includes the addition of air conditioning in 13 buildings.

Question: Why is air conditioning included in the project?
Answer: As the District replaces heating and ventilating system, air conditioning is added. Having fully climate-controlled environments is important today. For many children and staff members, having air conditioning is a health issue. For those with asthma or allergies, trying to work in an environment without air conditioning can be difficult, if not dangerous. With the school year beginning in August and ending in June, we have many days when the outside temperature reaches 80 degrees or more. On those hot days temperatures can reach 100 degrees in some of our classrooms, making it extremely difficult to teach and learn. At the end of this project, all FWCS school buildings will be air conditioned.

Question: How many schools will receive air conditioning?
Answer: Air conditioning will be added to 16 schools that are not currently fully air conditioned.

Question: Is installing air conditioning the main reason for replacing HVAC (Heating, ventilating, air conditioning) systems?
Answer: No, the HVAC systems being replaced are well past their useful life. As the buildings are in need of new heating and piping systems, now is the time to install energy efficient climate control systems that can be used year-round as needed. The vast majority of the HVAC costs (76%) are related to heating and piping, including replacing boiler plants, replacing unit ventilators and fan coil units, upgrading electrical service and distribution, removing and abating asbestos pipe insulation, replacing pneumatic temperature controls with direct digital controls and much, much more.

Question: Why does this project include replacing all piping in a system instead of just replacing pipes that are broken?
Answer: It is much more cost effective to replace the entire system when completing infrastructure work than to do the projects piecemeal.

Question: Why is Nebraska Elementary included in the plan when the District plans to close it?
Answer: The Nebraska building will cease to be used as an elementary school at the completion of the 2015-2016 school year due to decreased enrollment in the Nebraska and Washington Elementary areas.  The Nebraska building is still a viable building structure and is an anchor in the neighborhood. Upon renovation, it will continue to the used for other FWCS student programs.

Question: What happens to the schools that are not included in this plan?
Answer: Currently, much of the Capital Projects budget is being used for emergency repairs and maintenance on old systems. As major building needs are being paid for with bonds, FWCS anticipates returning to its regular replacement schedules and have money available to upgrade systems as needed. With fewer regular maintenance issues to deal with, there will be more funds available for projects in the other buildings. The REPAIR program is considered a long-range plan for improvements and modernization of our buildings. Continuation of the program is dependent on voter approval, but by spreading out the beginning of each phase, additional tax increases likely would be unnecessary.

Question: In what order will the work be done?
Answer: The buildings with the greatest needs will be done first, but we also have to look at the timeline of the buildings to determine the physical reality of the schedule.

Question: Are all of the components of the plan necessary, such as replacing bookshelves, casework, lockers and lighting?
Answer: If replacement is not needed, we will repair and repaint. However, there comes a time when replacement of 50 year old lockers, bookshelves and casework is a better solution. Adequate lighting is an important component of the educational process and efficiencies can be gained with new products, but again, if replacement is not needed, we will not do it.

Question: How disruptive will the construction be?
Answer: We will work closely with our contractors to make sure disruptions are as minimal as possible. Some smaller projects may be completed during summer breaks to minimize disruption. Schools requiring major repairs and renovations will need to have work done during the school year. We are committed to maintaining our educational environment and do not want to negatively affect student learning. At Northrop High School, the amount of repairs needed will require the temporary addition of modular units.

The Waynedale News Staff
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