We were initially on the fence about Measure I-10, the $117 million Atascadero School bond that would finance a host of improvements — including a new or refurbished junior high.
After touring school facilities, however, we agree that for the health and safety of students and staff, it’s imperative to upgrade aging, deteriorated campuses.
Some Atascadero campuses, such as the junior high, are more than 50 years old. While the interiors of classrooms are still inviting — thanks to a caring and dedicated staff — outside there’s no mistaking the peeling paint, the cracked asphalt and in at least one case that we saw, the moss growing on the roof.
And the problems aren’t merely cosmetic. Older facilities lack insulation, up-to-date wiring and modern heating and air conditioning. The roof of the high school gym leaks – threatening to ruin the expensive floor — and there are more than 80 portable classrooms spread throughout the district that are way past their 20-year life span. Moisture inside classrooms is such an issue that mold is a constant worry. And many doors and walkways fail to meet standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
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Given the dismal state economy, there isn’t nearly enough deferred maintenance money to even put a dent in the long list of needed repairs and renovations.
Last year, the Atascadero district had to make do with $180,000 of its own funds to cover a long list of repairs — a drop in the proverbial bucket, when you consider it will cost an estimated $20 million just to modernize the elementary schools.
There are other reasons it makes sense to move forward now:
A local commitment will qualify the district for an additional $15 million to $20 million in matching funds from the federal government.
The energy-saving measures incorporated into new and remodeled buildings will reduce utility costs by around $150,000 per year.
Due to the slowdown in the construction industry, the district will be able to take advantage of bids running in the neighborhood of 20 percent less than normal.
The local economy will benefit from construction jobs that will be generated over several years.
There will be an opportunity to relocate the junior high out of the center of town, allowing the property — which is designated for commercial uses in the city’s General Plan — to be leased for other purposes.
Keep in mind, too, that if the measure passes, homeowners will not see an increase in their property tax bills. In fact, bills will be considerably lower. That’s because a school property tax now on the books is set to expire in June 2011. The rate of the existing tax is $97.50 per $100,000 of assessed value, while the new tax rate would be around half that — a maximum of $59 per $100,000.
True, property owners would pay no additional school tax at all if Measure I-10 is defeated. We certainly understand the appeal of lower taxes, especially in this awful economy. However, there is no getting around the fact that conditions in many of Atascadero’s public schools are deplorable, and they will only get worse over time.
We strongly urge Atascadero citizens to act now to protect student health and safety by voting yes on Measure I-10.
Projects that could potentially be funded by Measure I-10, Atascadero’s $117 million school bond:
Renovate the existing downtown junior high campus, or build a new junior high at a new location.
Renovate the existing downtown Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, or build at a new location.
Construct a Visual and Performing Arts Center at Atascadero High.
Construct a science, technology, engineering and math facility at Atascadero High.
Remodel an existing high school building to accommodate a student and staff cafeteria and a staff development, meeting and classroom facility.
Expand vocational education facilities for programs such as welding, automotive technology, culinary arts, medical and health technology and construction trades.
Equip classrooms with up-to-date computers and other technology.
Repair and replace roofs.
Meet handicap accessibility requirements in restrooms and classrooms.
Upgrade and replace outdated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
Repair, renovate and modernize outdated and aging classrooms and facilities throughout the district.
Install solar panels and other systems to cut down on energy costs.
Renovate restrooms throughout the district.
Upgrade playing fields and athletic facilities throughout the district.