SBSD Facilities Stewardship Plan 2022-2031
SOUTH BURLINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT’S FACILITIES STEWARDSHIP PLAN, CURRENT CAPITAL PLAN, AND THE PROPOSED FY24 BOND
As previously highlighted in other sections of this document, the need to address critically deferred items related to our existing aging infrastructure and building capacity (in the wake of growing student enrollment) is a paramount feature of the FY24 budget. The Facilities Stewardship Plan is a detailed multi-year tracking mechanism for projecting short- and long-term projects that address these concerns. Projects are listed by school and category (e.g. roofing, HVAC, bathrooms, etc.), and are divided by funding source (e.g routine maintenance and small focused projects are managed through the annual local operating budget; longer-term capital projects are included in periodic bond proposals that require separate voter approval). Before reviewing the details of these items as they impact the FY24 budget, it may be useful to provide a summarized narrative of how the district has arrived at this urgent point of required action.
Facility Master Planning History
The South Burlington School District has been working incrementally, over the past decade, towards a goal of understanding how our current facilities impact our students and greater community. The results of this ongoing work have been documented through several School Board-led initiatives as well as joint city/school task forces and volunteer committees working with administrators to understand the issues and develop potential solutions.
The District now has a deep understanding of the challenges presented by our facilities and their impacts on our programs. As highlighted earlier in this document, the District has obtained updated enrollment projections that confirm what we are currently experiencing: a projected continued growth in student population and overcrowded conditions at the majority of our school buildings. We have now completed comprehensive building assessments documenting existing conditions, deferred maintenance needs and estimated costs and options to better align facilities with our desired future educational programs.
These building assessments were completed by a team of architects, engineers and educational planners from Dore + Whittier Architects who have been working with the District for many years assisting with development of this data.
In 2018, a Feasibility Study and Building Assessment was completed for the Middle and High Schools. The major take away points from this study were that the 60+ year old buildings had served the community well but were in need of major renovations and additions or a full replacement. Deferred maintenance costs at that time were estimated to be well over $30 million for just the Middle and High Schools (and are now estimated at over $60 million for the District as a whole). The scope of work and estimated costs for these improvements were only to extend the life of the buildings. They did not address space issues or how the design of these 60+ year old buildings were disconnected from the needs of delivering today’s education. The High School was well over its intended capacity based on current standards (although its enrollment has since dipped). The Middle School proved to have adequate overall space but in all the wrong places – a gym that is too small, lack of adjacent rooms and support spaces to facilitate a teaming/house style system that is currently utilized, along with many other deficiencies.
Many options were evaluated that reviewed renovating facilities in place and adding additional space as needed. Other options reviewed constructing separate new buildings as well as a combined new building and many variants of each.
In 2020, the school board sponsored a $209M bond article for the construction of a combined new middle/high school to be located on the existing campus. The bond article was not approved. During the community outreach process leading up to the vote, the District received good feedback from the community asking reasonable questions about cost, timing, lack of state aid and questions about the current conditions and future disposition of the elementary schools in this overall plan. Enrollments were increasing at the elementary school level and they were rapidly running out of appropriate space.
In 2022, the District completed a Feasibility Study and Building Assessment for the District’s three elementary schools. The District also obtained updated enrollment projections which indicated a sustained increase in enrollment at the elementary level and continued pressure at the middle school level. In 2022, the district administration formed an Enrollment Committee composed of community members, parents, educators and school administrators to analyze the results of the Elementary School study and to develop a recommended option to alleviate space issues at the elementary level. As previously highlighted, this led to a recommendation made to the school board to sponsor a bond article to provide additional classroom and support space at both the Rick Marcotte Central School and Orchard School via the construction of Zero Emission Modulars (ZEMs) to handle the projected increase in enrollment for the next 5 to 7 years. Additionally, the Enrollment Committee recommended developing a longer term plan that may include realignment of current grade configurations to better match desired educational outcomes and efficiently utilize current space and facilities.
South Burlington is certainly not unique in its infrastructure deficiencies. The Vermont House and Senate Committee on Education commissioned an independent analysis on this topic titled “Vermont School Facilities Inventory and Assessment” that was submitted by the Secretary of Education in April 2022. This study leveraged an independent consultant to review a broad range of facility-related factors in 54 School Districts/Supervisory Unions (SD/SU) across the state. The study utilized a “Facility Condition Index” (FCI) to measure the aggregated depletion percentage of facilities for each SD/SU. The higher the percentage, the greater the need for infrastructure replacement or upgrades. The South Burlington School District did not fare well in the analysis. The average FCI for the SD/SUs participating in the study was 71.4%, reflecting considerable concern for the overall condition of school infrastructure across the state. The calculated FCI for our South Burlington district was 81.3%, which ranked it as the 11th highest SD/SU most in need of action to address its infrastructure needs, and the 2nd highest in Chittenden County. In its executive summary, the report considered any SD/SU having a FCI of over 75% to represent a “troubling” condition.
With this important background context in mind, we will now present our recommendations for the FY24 budget.
The Facilities Stewardship Plan and Proposed Bond
A snapshot summary of the current Facilities Stewardship Plan (for the 10-year period FY2022 through 2031) is provided below. You will note that the entry for FY24 bond-funded infrastructure projects is aligned with the bond request for $8,550,000 as part of the overall $14,550,000 bond request (that also includes $6 million for the installation of the ZEMs at Rick Marcotte Central and Orchard Schools).
SBSD FACILITIES STEWARDSHIP PLAN 2022-2031
Assuming that the new bond passes on March 7th, the below summary chart displays the Capital Debt Service Budget that would persist, including the ongoing paydown of formerly approved bonds:
SCHOOL DISTRICT 10-YEAR CAPITAL DEBT SERVICE BUDGET
In terms of the specific bond request for FY24, the table below offers more details of what is included in the request, along with a more detailed illustration of the debt service that would impact future budgets. As noted earlier, if the bond is passed by the voters in March, there would be an interest-only payment due in FY24, with principal payment starting to become due in FY25 and beyond. These figures are still illustrative because the exact amortization schedule will not be known until the funds are actually borrowed from the Vermont Bond Bank once approved by the voters, and as interest rates fluctuate each day the final numbers should approximate, but not match exactly, the information provided below.
In summary, the District is facing over $60 million in deferred maintenance needs for our existing infrastructure, and significant overcrowding due to increasing enrollment. This does not even take into consideration how our aging buildings and their original configurations need to adapt to provide high quality universal education in the 21st century. The $14.55 million bond proposal is only one step towards addressing our most pressing needs. The District looks forward to engaging the community to develop lasting solutions to our numerous facility challenges. This bond article buys us some time and allows us to adequately provide space for our elementary students starting in August of this year. We need to use this time to plan for the future but can no longer afford to ignore or defer required action as we have done in the past.