Eastern Carver County Schools has been a growing district for decades. Apart from a few, individual years when enrollment was flat or declined slightly, every school year brings higher enrollment. While Eastern Carver County Schools opened a new elementary school last year, some of its schools are nearly 50 years old. We’re like a parent in a demographic sandwich, who’s caring for young children and aging parents at the same time. To navigate this situation, the school district conducted a facilities study in early 2018 led by Kraus-Anderson Construction Co.
Keep schools in good shape
The results, which the School Board heard on Monday, say Eastern Carver County Schools is facing more than $150 million in maintenance costs over the next 10 years. The 2015 referendum provided $7.5 million for deferred maintenance, and like a residential home, upkeep is an ongoing need. The study analyzed each school in detail. Issues identified include heating and ventilation systems, cracked and worn foundations, old roofing, eroded flooring, and more. The issue with ventilation systems at older buildings like Chaska Middle Schools East and West is that building codes have changed since the 1970s, said John Huenink of Kraus-Anderson at Monday’s meeting. Air ducts required today are bigger. There may not be space in the ceilings of older buildings to do a simple replacement. Installing modern heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) systems is more complicated and costly at schools that originally met the building codes of the 1970s.
Growing and growing and growing
The facility study considered enrollment growth. The district is expected to add 1,000 more students in the next four years, mostly at the elementary level. This is due to new single-family construction that suits young families. Carver Elementary, which opened in 2017, is already 90 percent full. Housing growth is not stopping, which means more classroom spaces will be needed. The facility study considered school additions and new school buildings. The costs for all potential new classrooms in the next five years are estimated at $44 million, including a new elementary school at about $40 million.
Bus garage is full
The study also looked at the district’s bus garage. Eastern Carver County Schools owns the garage in downtown Chaska. The district allows its contracted bus companies to use the garage. Buses have been added over the years as enrollment has grown. The garage is no longer large enough for all of the buses that are required. About one-quarter of the fleet parks in the open on that property. The cost of a new garage is about $14 million.
With potential infrastructure costs tallying up quickly, district staff will appoint a task force to help prioritize these needs. The district does not receive enough annual revenue to cover items identified in the facility study. Construction and maintenance projects from the facility study could be part of a referendum question in November 2019. The district is looking at a possible referendum next year because of a levy that voters approved in 2013. This capital projects levy provides annual funding for classroom technology and school security. The funding expires after the 2019-20 school year and voters must approve its renewal in order for it to continue.
What will the task force do?
The task force will review information from the facility and demographic reports. By March, the task force is expected to have a recommendation to the School Board on the most urgent facility projects. As with past Eastern Carver County Schools task forces, the public will have representation on the facility task force from parents and community members.