While tax measures can be the cause for division, local residents generally agree on the need to adequately fund the county’s schools.
In November of 2018, 66% of voters in the Vallecito Union School District (VUSD) approved Measure E, which authorized the district to issue $11 million in bonds to fund the construction and repair of classrooms and facilities. The district is currently gearing up to put these funds to use, and has multiple projects in the works this year.
“We’ve got several projects going,” VUSD Superintendent Jim Frost said. “We have projects at all three of our schools.”
At Avery Middle School, improvements include a new HVAC system for the gym, ducting repairs for the library and a track and field design and build.
“Presently, the first one going is new heat and air systems for the Avery Middle School gymnasium, and upgrades to the heat and air system for the library,” Frost said. “We also have an all-weather field and track resurfacing at Avery Middle School.”
For Hazel Fischer and Michelson elementary schools, plans include roof repairs; rehabilitation of ceilings, lighting and flooring in the multipurpose rooms; replacing boilers with HVAC systems and ensuring that the schools are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’ve got repairs to both Michelson and Hazel Fischer schools, our two elementaries, which include new roofs for both schools; include new heat and air systems for both schools; include modernization, kind of upgrading the gyms – new floors, new ceiling and lighting, and some shade structures for their outdoor eating areas – and just general upgrades to those schools.”
Frost said the projects were moving right along.
“So far, we have our architect in place; we have our inspector of record in place; we have gone through the process of selecting a contractor for both Hazel Fischer and Michelson projects,” Frost said. “We have selected a contractor, a product, for the Avery Middle School field and track project, and we have successfully completed the bid process for the air conditioning at Avery Middle School. So those projects will all be starting here in the next two to four months.”
Work began on the field at Avery Middle School on Feb. 14, with upgrades to the heating and air-conditioning system to commence shortly.
“The successful bidder, a company called Modern Air, out of Merced – and this is about a half-a-million-dollar project – they have ordered all of the new air-conditioning and heating systems,” Frost said. “They will start in early March … They will be demoing the old heating and air systems, and getting them out. They will be cleaning out the existing ductwork, and then they will install all the new stuff.”
Frost said that while the work would ideally all occur over the summer, the scope of the projects requires some construction to take place during the school year.
“We really hope that we will get them done by next fall,” he said. “And then we’re going to see how we are financially with those costs, and then we hope to do a second gym facility at Avery, but that is contingent upon what is the final cost of all of these other projects.”
Although documents provided by the architect, Teter, LLP, estimate a price tag of about $4.5 million for each of the elementary school projects, Frost said that he thought the final cost would likely be lower.
“We don’t know what that price is going to be yet,” Frost said. “When the contractor looks at approved plans that have come out of the Division of State Architect, they will give us a price for the project. I don’t think they’ll be quite that big. My guess is somewhere between $3 and $4.5 million. That’s why we’re putting off that gym project, because we really don’t know how much these elementary projects are going to cost. And we don’t know, too, when you pull off a roof, what’s under there. Is there damage under there that we’re going to have to fix? We don’t know those things yet.”
Frost said that he was excited to see the projects moving forward.
“I am thrilled to death,” he said. “Our field and track at Avery is virtually unusable right now; it’s in bad shape. Our roofs leak like crazy (at the elementary schools) – I don’t want to go through another winter of that … I’ll be glad to get the multipurpose rooms at the two elementaries upgraded. And the gym at Avery, without the air and heat system, you swelter in there in the spring, fall and summer, and you freeze to death there in the winter.”
The elementary school projects will be carried out through a lease-leaseback arrangement, Frost said.
“There’s two ways to legally procure contracting services in California,” he said. “One is you have a bid process, and the other is a lease-leaseback process. The bid process, if you choose the bid process, you have to select the lowest bidder, whether that contractor is qualified or not. With a lease-leaseback, you can prequalify your bidders; you can check their qualifications; you can grade their proposals; and you can select the best value contractor. They may not be the cheapest, but they are the ones most capable of bringing the project through to a successful conclusion. We’re pleased with our situation with Hazel Fischer – CT Brayton not only was the most qualified, they were also the lowest price.”
A lease-leaseback arrangement also gives the district the option of paying for services over an extended period of time, Frost said.
“It does have that option,” he said. “And so that will all come about toward the end of the projects to see where we are financially with this. You know, like anybody else with their own personal finances, we all have long wish lists of things that we’d like, and our bank accounts are often not that big. And we’re the same. We have lots of things that we’d love to have; we’re just going to have to see in a very planned and thoughtful manner what we can actually afford to get the most bang for our dollar.”