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Futures under construction (10/24/2007)
By Paul Durand
It is a widely held belief that public education is essential to the local economy. Schools are a significant part of the infrastructure of a community, and can have a direct impact on real estate values, employment, wages, and countless other economic factors in the lives of our citizens. Healthy public schools are often as much an indicator of economic progress as the numbers of people employed locally or the profit and loss indicators of area businesses. Often people judge the quality of a community and the educational institutions that serve them by what they see on the outside of the buildings. Is there a link between the overall maintenance of our buildings, the condition of school facilities, and student academic achievement? According to many research studies on this issue, the answer is YES.

Studies conducted over the past twenty years have shown a direct correlation between the overall qualities of learning environments and enhanced academic outcomes. According to a report sponsored by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, "The overall impact a school building has on students can be either positive or negative, depending upon the condition of the building. In cases where students attend school in substandard buildings they are definitely handicapped in their academic achievement. Correlation studies show a strong positive relationship between overall building conditions and student achievement." The Winona Area Public Schools also face these same challenges with our facilities. We have worked hard to make real improvements to our school buildings and grounds over the past few years, yet we hope to make even greater progress on them in the years to come.

Getting it done!

We currently have ten buildings - WSHS, WMS, W-K, Central, Madison, Jefferson, Goodview, Dakota and Rollingstone elementary schools along with the Winona Area Learning Center. Over the past four years we conducted five major remodeling projects in existing buildings, sold two schools and one maintenance shop and constructed a new WALC facility. Much of this work has been done by or supported from our custodial and maintenance employees. The school district currently employee thirty-four staff in this department which is an increase up six from September 2005. Our crews demonstrate on a daily basis their pride in a job well done. A frequent comment heard from teachers, parents and community members is how impressed they are with the hard work and quality job done by our custodial and maintenance workers. Our goal is to obtain (remodel/construct) and maintain (repair/modernize) school facilities so they are clean, quiet, safe, and comfortable and provide a healthy environment for our students and staff. The average age of our buildings in Winona is 50 years old with four buildings built in the 1930s, one in 1959, one in 1967, one in 1971, one in 1996 and two since 2000. If we are to keep a strong public education infrastructure in place we need to continually reinvest for the future.

Understanding the scope of our problem

In 2005 our school district conducted a system-wide facility analysis. Wold Architects and Engineers produced a comprehensive report based on their analysis of physical conditions and deficiencies evident in all our buildings which encompasses 775,401 sq ft and 115 acres of grounds. The eleven categories examined were building sites, exteriors, interiors, accessibility, life safety, hazardous materials, mechanical systems, electrical systems, program, technology and expandability. These were prioritized into a report that itemized deficiencies and necessary corrective measures. In 2005 their cost analysis totaled over $35 million dollars in deferred maintenance needs. Adjusted for inflation this number has now grown to $37,261,110 necessary to update our existing facilities.

How are we paying for current projects?

The state of Minnesota allows or provides funding for school districts to address facilities needs through health and safety and deferred maintenance levies. We also receive state aid to support routine operating capital needs. This year the school district budget is $1,279,322 for capital projects (i.e. boiler/roof repairs, equipment and technology purchases, textbooks, copy machines and building/ground repairs) and $1,548,773 for health and safety related projects (i.e. indoor air quality improvements and fire suppression/sprinkler systems).

In 2005 the school district placed a question on the ballot asking our voters for approval of capital project authorization to enhance school security and safety, provide for capital improvements and to address deferred maintenance and facility needs. This proposed authorization would have generated $25 million dollars over a ten-year period. This portion of the referendum was unsuccessful, failing by fewer than 200 votes. Unfortunately the necessary repairs, renovations and improvements are still undone, and inflation alone will drive the costs up even more in the future. I believe our community must come together and ultimately decide how we will address the long-term facility needs for the public schools in Winona. Under Minnesota's current funding system it will be virtually impossible to maintain our school buildings and grounds without local taxpayer support. Your decisions to sustain quality facilities and building maintenance for our school district can affect the daily performance of the generations of students and teachers who use them. Every day our students' futures are under construction in the Winona Area Public Schools. We strive to enhance long-term, positive effects on academic achievement through the quality of our school facilities.

 

 

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