WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Impact 103: The Condition of School Buildings

Nov 20, 2017

The West Prairie School District hired Farnsworth Group, which is a national design firm, to assess the condition of its four school buildings plus the district office and bus garage.  The review was done as part of the Impact 103 Community Engagement Program in which district leaders are asking residents to help them create a long-range vision for the school system.

Most of the district’s schools did not fare well in the Farnsworth review, though the firm’s Dave Leggans is surprised they are not in worse shape.

“It’s very common in rural districts to defer maintenance.  The focus is always on education – and that’s where it should be.  The problem is some other things get put by the wayside,” he said.

Leggans and co-worker Paul Kouri presented their findings to around 100 people who attended the second public input session held as part of Impact 103.  They based their findings on visual observations of physical conditions and did not offer recommendations – they simply shared what they observed:

  • The North Elementary School is in Fair Condition.  The building is structurally sound but there is water damage from the roof and the HVAC system is aging.
  • The South Elementary School is in Good Condition. The roof is in good shape. There is some water infiltration and it’s time to replace the exterior doors.
  • The Middle School is in Poor Condition.  There is roof damage, moisture damage to the gymnasium insulation, floors are worn, and the parking lot has potholes.
  • The High School is in Fair Condition.  The roof is in good shape.  There are some water quality issues and there is some asbestos.  The furniture is aging.

“It all comes down to maintenance,” said Kouri.  “Just like the car analogy.  If you maintain your car well, you’re going to get 200,000-300,000 miles out of it. If you don’t maintain it well, you may only get 100,000 miles out of it.”

A large crowd attended the first two Impact 103 community engagement sessions. At the second session they heard from Paul Kouri and Dave Leggans of the design firm Farnsworth Group.
Credit Rich Egger

Those in attendance were asked after the presentation to share their concerns about the buildings. Some of those concerns include:

  • The condition of building exteriors
  • The ability to provide access to technology
  • Safety and security features
  • Energy efficiency

Residents also wondered about the cost of a building a new school vs. the cost of maintaining current buildings.  The design firm said the average age of West Prairie’s buildings is 54 years.  And residents raised the idea of perhaps consolidating to just three schools – perhaps two K-6 schools and one 7-12 school.

In addition, they wondered whether it’s too expensive to keep the district office. They said administrative office space could be found at one of the schools.

Leggans and Kouri shared 20-year cost projections for maintaining and improving the buildings:

  • District Office:  $458,883 to maintain; $65,000 to improve
  • North Elementary School:  $1,915,222 to maintain; $1,943,550 to improve
  • South Elementary School:  $2,103,324 to maintain; $1,922,700 to improve
  • Middle School:  $1,557,653 to maintain; $4,389,700 to improve
  • High School:  $2,504,060 to maintain; $5,545,000 to improve
  • Bus Garage:  $280,906 to maintain; $45,000 to improve

That adds up to a total of $8,820,048 to maintain the buildings and $13,910,950 to improve them for a grand total of $22,730,998.

Whatever the district ends up deciding to spend on buildings, it will be helped by the countywide one-cent sales for school construction projects.  McDonough County voters approved the tax in November, 2016, with 61% casting ballots in favor of it. 

The tax was first collected in July, 2017.  Superintendent Carol Kilver said West Prairie received its first payment in October, 2017, getting around $27,000 that month and the same amount in November.