And just like that, we’re back to school. School routines have been re-established and classrooms are busy again with learning. We’re grateful for each family that chose Eastern Carver County Schools this year. We have a number of advantages that make us a destination for families, including our commitment to personalized learning, safe and welcoming schools and opportunities for students whatever their interests.
As discussed in a previous column, this summer was dedicated to studies for Eastern Carver County Schools’ future. Housing growth is all around us. New homes bring young families and children. All four of our cities – Chaska, Chanhassen, Victoria and Carver – have new home construction. As a result of developments underway and planned, we expect to have 1,000 more students in our district in four years.
Enrollment is only half the story. We have to maintain our existing facilities. Previous generations of residents helped establish our district with schools that met needs of the community at the time. Of the 16 schools that we operate, five of them are 40 years old and older. You might recognize the age of buildings like Chaska Middle School East and West by their architecture. They still provide learning for the 21st century. With this legacy in mind, district administration conducted a comprehensive facility study this summer.
The study indicates that our older schools face significant maintenance costs. Like a home that is more than 40 years old, essential systems like heating, air handling and foundations need to be replaced and repaired. Also like a home, when we update an air handling system, we have to meet code requirements of 2018, not 1978. This makes the cost of maintenance more expensive. If you have ever had to retrofit something, you know it’s costly because it takes more work to make the new system fit an older framework. The facility study identified more than $150 million in deferred maintenance costs over the next 10 years.
Expenses of this size give us reason to pause. The needs always seem to be bigger than available funding. We face an enrollment trend that makes a new elementary school very likely in the near future. Carver Elementary, which opened last year, has two or three years before it reaches capacity. A new school takes two years to build. It is not reasonable to ask taxpayers to take on expenses of everything in the facility study. Because we rely on taxes for everything we do, a request for funding has to be the right amount and for the most important projects.
To help the School Board prioritize, we will commission a facility task force to review all of the research and make recommendations. Residents, school staff and district administration will be part of the task force. They will begin reviewing the enrollment and facility studies in October. The task force will make a recommendation to the board to address our enrollment and to prioritize facility needs.
After a few months of review, the board will hear these recommendations. In the spring, the board will go through a process to decide what to ask of our public in a referendum in November 2019. Referendum decisions are never made quickly or easily in Eastern Carver County Schools. The next step in the future of our community begins now.
-Clint Christopher, Superintendent