In a school district that hasn’t passed a construction bond measure in 17 years, you don’t have to look far to uncover problems that plague older schools.
Some Franklin Pierce School District classrooms are overheated, while others are always cold. Playfields flood, making them unusable in rainy winters. Gym bleachers are so old that replacement parts are hard to find.
Angela Eskers hears about it from her three children, who all attend schools in the Parkland-based district. She has one child in elementary school, another in middle school and a third in high school.
Eskers said the issues are most acute at Collins Elementary. She’s bothered by the standing water and potential for mold growth. She says the district has tried to keep up, but the patchwork treatment may no longer be enough. She wants “a safe environment, health-wise” for all students.
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Concerns like this have led Franklin Pierce leaders to plan a bond measure that likely would go to voters in 2016. The concerns also have drawn Eskers and other citizens to recent meetings of the Franklin Pierce Schools 2030 group, known as FPS 2030.
Launched by the district in 2010, the group aims to engage the community in helping prioritize needs for new schools and other major capital improvements over two decades.
Business owner Jim Akers is especially concerned about technology needs. At some of the older schools, updating for technology isn’t efficient, he believes. Six of the district’s 13 schools were built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.
Akers and others met Tuesday to review a list of more than two dozen possible projects. Then came the hard part: Participants were asked to vote, via cell-phone texting, on their top 15 priority projects.
Among the projects that scored well: replacing six elementary schools, installing high school science and technology labs at the district’s two comprehensive high schools, construction of a performing arts center at Franklin Pierce High School, replacement of middle schools and security upgrades at all schools.
The last time Franklin Pierce voters approved a bond measure was in 1998, for $25.5 million. They twice rejected construction bonds in 2008.
In 2012, voters approved a short-term capital levy designed to provide $27.5 million over five years, beginning in 2013. But that money was only intended to address the district’s most pressing needs. Left undone is the long list of projects that the FPS 2030 group is examining now.
District officials must pay attention to tax-sensitive voters. The district includes little commercial property, so residential taxpayers bear most of the burden for financing school buildings.
Officials are hopeful voters will get on board with a bond plan by November 2016.
At the next FPS 2030 meeting, participants will face an even more difficult task. They will be asked to consider not only needed projects, but price tags for each.
Akers doesn’t want the group to get distracted from its larger mission by focusing too heavily on needs at individual schools.
“We need to look at the big picture, the entire district,” he said.
Added Superintendent Frank Hewins: “This is important work. it’s about the kids, it’s about the future. This is the next step to make the community a better place to live.”