At the October 3 Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting, Superintendent Scott Hannon presented three cost options for ways the district could upgrade its buildings.
Each building has maintenance upgrades that require attention, Hannon said, and the three options he presented to the board divide projects based on necessity.
The three options range in price from approximately $5 million to $54 million. All but the $5 million "band-aid" option included multi-million dollar air conditioning upgrades that could be used to support a year-round school calendar that has not been approved by the School Board.
Hannon explained that these plans could be paid for through an energy efficiency program, health and safety levy tax dollars, and in the case of the $54 million option, voters would have to approve a large-scale property tax referendum.
Hannon explained that Energy Services Group (ESG), the company that has been hired to implement energy savings projects at the middle and high schools and Jefferson Elementary, helped him go through the current buildings and review an old facilities report to identify what projects would be most important.
Hannon said that using ESG's engineers to look at the buildings' needs made the most sense, adding that other people could always adjust the potential projects.
ESG works under a state statute that allows government units to borrow money without a referendum or competitive bidding process for projects that would pay for themselves in energy savings over 15 years. ESG previously presented the same multi-million dollar air-conditioning elementary school options to the School Board, which were rejected in favor of less expensive upgrades to the high school and middle school. Board members have asked for information on less expensive air-conditioning options to consider, but have not been presented with them.
According to Hannon, the future of the school district and school scheduling will have to be considered when making decisions about WAPS facilities. If the district decides to move forward with a longer school year in the future, Hannon believes the need for air-conditioning will increase substantially.
“Figures can always be disputed,” Hannon told the board during the October meeting. Some of the items in the "health and safety" option could be changed, Hannon explained. Things can be added or removed, he told the board.
“It’s just a base to start with,” Hannon said of the options. "There wasn’t any deliberate effort to downplay one or increase another."
The choice the School Board makes regarding these potential facility options may determine the fate of the elementary school buildings.
The first option, labeled the “band-aid,” takes care of high priority energy efficiency and deferred maintenance items that need to be implemented soon, Hannon said. The projects in this option might include things like electrical, heating, and lighting changes meant to save energy. According to Hannon, this option allows the district to “kick the can down the road,” five years or so. The current total price for these updates in all the facilities would be just under $5 million.
'Health and Safety'
The second option, labeled "Health and Safety," would update facility infrastructure including the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units, as well as controls, electrical, plumbing, lighting, and ceiling grid systems. It would also convert buildings' heating systems from steam to hot water as well as add central, chilled dehumidification to all spaces. Hannon said that health and safety property tax dollars could be used, in combination with an energy efficiency program, which would allow the board to borrow money without voter approval for projects that would pay for themselves through energy savings over 15 years. The current total cost for these updates would be just under $34 million.
The third option, labeled the "comprehensive" option, would update all aspects of the facilities, according to Hannon. This option would include the "health and safety" projects, along with other projects that were not explained in detail to the board. This option would require a voter-approved capital referendum, at a cost of $54 million.