San Luis Coastal district eyes property tax to pay for campus upgrades

Planned update to master plan would outline needed fixes

acornejo@thetribunenews.comApril 25, 2014 

Aged chalkboards, asbestos-laced vinyl floor tiles and single-pane windows can be found in most classrooms at San Luis Obispo High School.

The campus is aesthetically appealing from the outside, tucked into a hill in a picturesque area of the city. But the inside is a different story. The majority of the campus hasn’t been upgraded since it was built in the early 1960s.

One of the school’s main computer labs is a windowless room with computer stations set among colossal cubicles. There is little technology in the classrooms, a stark contrast to the San Luis Coastal School District’s stated goal to incorporate it into everyday teaching.

The school district is closely examining each of its three high schools, two middle schools and 10 elementary schools for needed repairs and updates. The information will be used to update the district’s facilities master plan for the first time since 1986.

What school administrators have found so far is that many of the elementary schools do not need major structural upgrades. Those schools, and the middle schools, benefitted from a $100 million bond passed by voters 23 years ago. But SLO High School and Morro Bay High School are a different story.

“The two high schools haven’t had any major renovations in a long time,” said Ryan Pinkerton, assistant superintendent of business services for the district. The district’s continuation high school is also in need of repair.

“The facilities have been kept up with from a custodial and cleanliness standpoint,” he said. “The front of San Luis Obispo High looks great but inside it is just time” for upgrades.

Who will pay for it?

The school board commissioned Isom Advisors of Walnut Creek to do a survey assessing the feasibility of putting a general obligation bond measure on the ballot. The measure could cost property owners $49 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year.

Those results, presented to the trustees Tuesday, show that more than 70 percent of voters surveyed would support a bond measure of up to $149 million. The school board must now decide if it will put a measure on November’s ballot.

Trustees unanimously agreed Tuesday to proceed with looking into the option by doing more community outreach on the issue. School districts can only put bond measures on the ballot during even years. If trustees do not put it on the November ballot, the next chance will be in 2016.

“I think there are risks either way … . November feels close to me,” said school board Trustee Chris Ungar, at a recent board meeting. “On the other hand I support striking while the iron is hot. Do we need two years to get support or do we have support right now?”

A school bond measure needs 55 percent voter approval to pass. The survey, conducted from April 7 to April 16, queried 500 voters on their attitudes toward the district using bond money to pay for facility upgrades. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.87 percentage points.

In all, 72 percent of those who responded said they felt the quality of education offered by the district was good or excellent. Many of those who responded showed strong support for updating vocational education programs and for constructing science and technology labs.

San Luis Coastal has schools in San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Los Osos. The survey acknowledged that voters in some of those areas will likely be asked to pass multiple tax measures including a possible bond from Cuesta College and a sales tax measure in San Luis Obispo. More than 55 percent of voters surveyed said they still would be willing to support the measure.

Long list of needs

The district hopes to complete the update of its facilities plan by June and begin prioritizing projects. Each high school has its own exhaustive list of needs but many are shared.

On the laundry list: numerous classrooms that need repair if they are going to be used for more than two years, restrooms need to be upgraded, fire alarms updated and locker rooms redone.

At Morro Bay High School a pool complex, a marine sciences facility and renovated tennis courts to be CIF compliant are also on the list. The school needs additional parking, a renovated quad, a canopy for its welding shop and a student center.

San Luis Obispo High School’s list includes a new cafeteria and kitchen, an all-weather track, a student services center, an expanded music building and a canopy at the auto tech building. Also on the list is a pool complex, a varsity baseball and softball stadium and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) complex.

Problems at the school include a wood shop that doesn’t have any insulation, windows that don’t open in one building and a boiler that needs to be replaced at the gym.

School safety is also being carefully evaluated. As it is now, a visitor to San Luis High School has to walk through nearly the entire campus to reach the administration building.

Anthony Palazzo, the district’s director of facilities, operations and transportation, would like to change that by moving the front office closer to the front of the campus.


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