Salem schools consider $13 million in projects

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Salem Community Schools is looking into making some much needed upgrades to all three school buildings in the next several months. Improvements would include renovating the pool, adding band and choir rooms at the high school, upgrading the elementary gym, installing artificial turf on the football field and constructing new tennis courts. The price tag for the projects totals around $13 million.

“The board hasn’t voted on anything yet,” said Superintendent Lynn Reed. “They’ve just been given some preliminary information.”

The biggest upgrade needed, and most pressing, is to the middle school pool.

“It’s more than 40 years old and we’ve patched and patched, but we’re still losing lots of water every week,” said Reed.

While some may balk at the $3 million price tag, Reed says it’s worth the cost to repair.

“The pool was built in 1976 for the specific purpose of teaching every child in the district to swim,” she said. “That was the vision then and that’s the vision now, saving lives — plus the hours of enjoyment people get by being able to swim. It comes to quality of life.”

She added it isn’t just the school that uses the pool. “We have open swim with the Y and they have their swimming lessons there,” she said. “They share the cost for chemicals, but we don’t charge them to use it.”

The project would include adding additional seating and moving the pump room to a different location.

At the elementary school, the work would primarily focus on the gym and adding LED lighting.

“We want to install a wood playing floor to relieve the pressure on the high school and middle school facilities,” said Reed. “Wood is also more forgiving than what we have now.”

She added the stage and sound equipment would also receive an upgrade, along with the dressing rooms and bathrooms. The work there would cost around $900,000.

If all goes as planned, the high school would have some new rooms.

“We don’t currently have band or choir rooms at the high school,” said Reed. “That makes us unlike any other school in the area. It really deflates a pep session when the band has to leave three-fourths of the way through the game so they can safely make it back across to the middle school to put their instruments away. People complain because it looks bad. With the games ending past dark and all the traffic after games, it just isn’t safe to be carrying large instruments back across the street in the dark.”

The band, choir and practice rooms would go off the English wing and would cost more than $4 million.

The school would also like to turf the football field and add some lights to the baseball field and put in a new set of tennis courts, all of which would cost between $1.7 and $2 million.

“Our football field is in dire need of being crowned, where the water runs off nicely and helps maintain the grass on the field, and doing that is expensive,” said Reed. “We’d also lose a whole season of home football games, band competitions and homecoming. You’d have one set of seniors who wouldn’t get to play on their field. The savings on maintenance when you have turf is quite a lot over time. Our maintenance crews spend hours a day on the football field from July through October. This would allow them to work on other parts of our campus.”

Reed added staff would be able to focus on the soccer and baseball fields more as well.

“Sometimes all the fields are needing something all at once, and even if the softball season might be done, it still needs to be maintained,” she said. “The football field is really the biggest part of that maintenance.”

So why move the tennis courts? Because the school has a dream.

“We’re not looking at this round of projects to include an auditorium, but our vision is to give the high school its own auditorium,” said Reed.

The auditorium would branch off toward the administration building, overtaking the current tennis courts. Reed said the tennis courts currently there would stay for community use until an auditorium would go in someday, but that the repairs needed would cost about as much as replacing them. The new tennis courts would go to a flat space just north of Bradie Shrum Elementary.

The price tag

So how will the $13 million package of school improvements impact taxpayers?

“The most appealing option we’re looking at would be a 9¢ increase [per $100 of assessed valuation] over the next few years,” said Assistant Superintendent Kim Thurston. “The year 2021 it would hit pretty significantly and we could see a 23¢ increase. If assessments go up, it might be a few cents less and if it goes down, it could go the other way. We have a period where we have a pretty good amount of debt.

“The high school bonds go off in 2024, so it will level back down then. We’re at $1.01 now and when the high school bonds go off, we could go down to probably $1.10 or $1.12, depending on the AV. That’s just the projections.”

Thurston said this would be the worst case scenario and all of this depends on how much of the work proposed the board decides to approve.

“They may not decide to do all the work,” he said. “We’re waiting until we know the volume of the work before discussing the total taxpayer impact.”

He added that the assessed valuations have stayed fairly steady in the past, but changes, positively or negatively, could impact the taxpayer cost as well.

Reed added that the estimates for the cost of the project are high to ensure if the numbers are off, they’re off in the school’s and community’s

“It’s always nice when you plan for more and it comes in less, rather than planning on less and having to tell people it’s going to be more,” she said.

“We say $13 million and bids may come in at only $12 million,” said Thurston.

Because each building is costing less than $5 million in repairs, should this be approved, there will be no opportunity for remonstrance.

“You’re allowed to bond up to $5 million in locations,” said Thurston. “If we were doing more than $5 million per location, there would be opportunities for remonstrance.”

The school held a community dinner to discuss school safety, the potential for e-Learning days and these projects.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of positive things,” said Reed. “There’s something for everyone. We’re addressing needs we have. It isn’t anything that we just want, but looking at needs. … Our facilities are nice, but we’re getting to the point where there needs to be some additional upgrades to keep them that way.”

“All of this belongs to the community,” said Thurston. “People who take care of their own properties will appreciate what we’re doing here to protect their investment."


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