Consulting firms to oversee reassessment of school that board says remains linchpin of renovation plans after failed referendum
Sharpening its focus on how to upgrade district facilities after the failure of a $49.5 million referendum, the Grafton School Board agreed Monday to have consultants perform an updated assessment of Grafton Elementary School.
The school, 1800 Washington St., which was the centerpiece of an expansive referendum plan, should be re-evaluated through a joint effort that includes district staff and consulting firms, board members decided.
“After a failed referendum, the citizens of the district deserve another look at this,” Supt. Mel Lightner said.
Grafton Elementary was one of five district schools earmarked for upgrades as part of two referendum questions rejected by voters April 5.
One question asked permission to borrow $47.7 million for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools. A second question asked to borrow $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation facilities.
On April 11, the board began discussing ways to upgrade Grafton Elementary, which officials said has fallen into the most serious state of disrepair among district buildings. Prior to the referendum, officials cited a 2012 study by the architectural firm of Plunkett & Raysich suggesting that reconstructing the school, which is nearly 60 years old, would be more cost-effective than repairing it.
Among the problems reported at Grafton Elementary and other district buildings are broken pipes, crumbling walls and ceiling tiles, flooding, cramped classrooms and storage areas and outdated and failing electrical, heating, air-conditioning and plumbing systems.
In a report to the board, Lightner proposed having the school’s condition reassessed collectively by district staff led by Director of Facilities Jamie Scofield; Sigma Group, a consulting and engineering firm; and Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction, which prepared an overview of district facilities for the referendum.
The report will be a critical resource as the board considers whether to hold another referendum, officials said. Elections in November and April have been suggested as possibilities.
“Hopefully, within the month, the report will be completed with cost projections on how we can proceed,” Lightner told the board. He recommended having the study include estimates on how much it will cost to make the school “last for 30 years.”
“Thirty years is a substantial amount of time, but that’s what we need to look at,” Lightner said. “The debt issue for the referendum was 24 years, so this would be a little longer.”
However, board member Paul Lorge said the report should consider a shorter lifespan for the school and include specific recommendations for immediate, middle-term and long-term needs.
“Why does it have to be 30 years? I don’t want that to influence the levels of cost,” said Lorge, the board treasurer. “The life of the school could be less than 30 years.”
Board member Mark Koehler said the repairs should be clearly prioritized so that pressing needs such as improved air quality can be addressed even if the district doesn’t undertake more extensive upgrades.
Lightner was asked why the board is focusing its attention on Grafton Elementary when other district buildings are also in disrepair.
“We’re starting out at GES, and that will give us a basis for moving forward,” he said.
Board President Terry Ziegler said Grafton Elementary should be the initial focal point because the referendum called for razing the building and replacing it with a new middle school. Plans also called for converting John Long School to an elementary school.
“GES is the linchpin of the referendum. We have to begin there,” Ziegler said. “We have to decide if we can save money and make the next referendum more palatable.”
Lightner said the district’s only cost for the new assessment will be $5,000 paid to the Sigma Group.
The board’s decision came after Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski gave a report on the district’s recent financial history. The report underscored budgetary constraints the district faces — including state-imposed revenue caps, aid cuts and declining enrollment — as it weighs options for upgrading facilities.