A detailed assessment of 15 buildings in School District 21 found many are in poor shape and warrant replacement, and most of the rest will move into that category in a few years.

The high school had the worst ratings, with all three buildings on campus rated too poor to warrant repair. The original building at Colonel Wright Elementary also rated poor.

The building assessment was presented April 16 at the first meeting of North Wasco County School District 21’s long range facilities master planning process. The meetings are open to anyone.

Over winter break, a team of engineers and architects did a visual inspection of every aspect of the buildings, from the foundations to the roof and everything in between, categorizing what they found as needing either minor, moderate or major repairs, or replacement.

They also did some work in February, and found most kids at Chenowith, for example, were still wearing their coats in the classroom, despite space heaters, because of the poor heating system there, said Dakotah Schattler, an architect with BLRB Architects, which did the assessment.

Dry Hollow had buckets throughout the building to catch leaks.

Wahtonka School had water leaks in its fluorescent lights. “That’s so dangerous. It’s such a fire hazard, it can go so wrong, so quickly,” said Richard Higgins, principal architect with BLRB Architects.

Based on what they found, it would cost, in today’s dollars, $54.3 million to make needed repairs to the buildings, and $202.9 million to replace them. The cost estimates are based on actual recent bids for each type of work, Higgins said.

Higgins stressed the $202.9 million represented an “apples to apples” replacement of “exactly what’s there now,” not an upgrade.

The $54.3 million figure is just to make repairs, even if they warrant replacement, Schattler said after the meeting.

Under the formula created by the state for the facilities assessment process, “School buildings with a score of .10 or below are considered in ‘good’ condition, while those above .30 are considered to be in ‘poor’ condition,” Schattler said. “The exact significance of these values will vary based upon the nature, use and owner’s expectation for the building.”

The formula looks at the cost of repairs divided by the cost of replacement. If repair costs reach up to 30 percent of the cost of replacement, then a building is in poor condition and replacement is more economical and therefore warranted.

The original high school building rated at 37.5%, and Kurtz Gym and the Chat and Chew were at 31.5% and 31.7%, respectively.

The main Wahtonka school rated a 37.8%.

Colonel Wright’s original building rated 33.4%, its administrative/gym building was 29.1% and the classroom wing was 22.7%.

Dry Hollow Elementary came in at 28.5% while the two buildings on the Chenowith Elementary campus were 24.8% and 27.7%.

The middle school, the district’s newest building, rated just 1%. The district office was 25.5%, and Higgins said, “honestly, the building’s in pretty good shape.”

A smaller building at the Wahtonka site rated at 8% while the district facilities office had the worst scoring building, at 60.9%.

Not rated was the Chenowith Middle School, since it is not in use, or Mosier Community School, which is not considered part of D21 for these purposes, Higgins said.

The state is encouraging school districts to do the building assessments — with the goal of creating a statewide facilities needs database, said Higgins, whose firm specializes in school buildings.

Once the state learns the scope of facilities needs, it hopes to create a funding strategy, he said.

But there is debate in Salem about whether the state can afford it, he said. Further, D21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong said, the push is to put money into teaching and learning, not facilities.

Higgins said in Washington, the state government provides at least half of the funding for public schools, but Oregon largely does not, leaving it up to local communities to fund them by voting for bonds.

The state will reimburse the district for the roughly $20,000 cost of the assessment and the anticipated $25,000 cost of the long range facilities master plan, said D21 Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson.

The assessment is a necessary precursor to doing the facilities plan, and the facilities plan is itself necessary to “better position” the district, Higgins said, to qualify for a $4 million state matching grant for any facilities project. He said the facilities plan would not guarantee receiving a matching grant. The facilities grants now offered by Oregon are recent, he said.

Armstrong reiterated to the school board last Thursday that the long range planning process is not a “pre-bond” process. Rather, it is a stand-alone effort, expected to take 18-24 months, that will produce a 10-year plan for the district.

In the school district’s failed $235 million bond effort last fall, which sought to replace four schools, the district was criticized for not having a long range plan and not seeking the $4 million grant. The district had previously sought the planning grant but was denied. This year, they qualified.

No other meetings have been set yet in the planning process. Rather, officials will research who to reach out to and how. The district also released a survey on its website and Facebook page that hopes to learn how the public prefers to receive communications about the district.

Other steps in the planning process will include population projections, collaborating with other governments on funding and other needs, community involvement, and looking at the educational adequacy of classrooms.

Educational adequacy is a key element of the planning, and considers a number of factors, including equipment. “Has anybody been to your science classrooms lately? Yikes,” Higgins said.

As for the original building at the high school, estimates were that it would take $20.4 million to repair, and $54.3 million to replace it.

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