Still faced with outdated buildings, Beatrice School District reviving facility discussions

BEATRICE – Having faced two bond issue failures, but still having buildings constructed in the 1950s with inherent fire, safety and efficiency problems, Beatrice Public School officials are taking a hard look at alternatives.

The District 15 Board met in a committee session Wednesday night with representatives from Johnson Controls and Boyd Jones company. School officials are looking at methods allowed by state law that would enable the district to build facilities without the need for a public vote.

"There's always going to be a reason why we shouldn't do it. Whether its corn prices are low, or cattle prices are low, or construction prices are high, or tax asking is too much. But, the bottom line is the facts are the facts....and you, as a board, you're going to hear the reasons why we shouldn't do it. You need to prepare yourselves mentally for that, because its taxing....its stressful. People will come up with a million good reasons why we shouldn't do it, but I can give you about fifteen hundred reasons why we should...and they come to school everyday and they deserve the best we can possibly give them."

Superintendent Jason Alexander gave board members a look at problems with the 1950s pre-kindergarten and elementary buildings ….including fire code violations…many which have been rectified but many which remain. There are security concerns with entrances, inadequate electrical and plumbing for today’s education environment, ADA concerns, problems with ceiling tile not being fire rated and inadequate sprinkler availability.

While the problems are most common at the Pre-K through Fifth grade buildings, some of the same issues exist at the Beatrice Middle School.
Alexander says part of the problem is that the buildings generally look good from the outside.

"The general public looks at our buildings from the outside, and they see what looks generally like a very good building. Hats off to Terry(Brethouwer) and his team for keeping buildings in as good a condition as possible. But, these are issues you don't see unless you go into the buildings, themselves."

One of the newest school board members, Eric Book, acknowledged that he voted in opposition to the past two elementary school bond issues. But after a tour with the building and grounds superintendent inside facilities, it was a perception changing event.
"I was like, let's fix what we have. But, I think its very important that we get the information out to the people. I was one of those voters who voted no, both times...I didn't have the information. I had a guy come to my house with a flyer, and that was it. So, I think its important we have to build the trust with people and get this information out."

One option the district will be examining is a process of design-build, lease-purchase. Vince Ardito of Johnson Controls says it allows school districts, by state law, to undertake building projects using current budget resources and savings.

"If you build a building not for the cheapest cost, but to cycle cost analysis will come into play. It's much cheaper to put better quality in, maintain it, and then when you look across 20, 25 or 30 years, its much less for the taxpayers, number one.....and for the district, number two."

Cost of construction is a concern across many sectors now. Emily Bannick with Boyd Jones says in the past four to five months, costs have escalated 10 to 15 percent.

"Escalation is going to continue. There's going to be blips, it's going to go up and down a little bit...but basically, construction costs will continue to increase over time. So waiting will yield a more expensive project. The other thing, you need to factor in interest rates. Right now rates are low. They will likely go up. If interest rates go up, the less money that you actually put into your building and the more money you are using. paying on interest."

Alexander says key factors in any facility spending will be efficiency, equality of educational opportunities and fire, health and life safety.