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School fix-up needs in River Falls: What next?

Two years ago River Falls voters in a referendum approved more than $19 million in mechanical, redesign, safety and energy efficiencies for their public schools.

Today, aside from some “tweaking and change orders,” the work’s done, the life span of schools extended.

But it’s never that simple. The good news: Because of conservative spending estimates and productive work schedules, there’s about $920,000 referendum money left.

Monday night the school board discussed how best to spend that amount. It can only be used for similar building needs spelled out in the referendum.

The bad news: There are still big needs, and they’re very costly.

Art Tobin, building and grounds director, outlined them:

1) Air conditioning for Meyer Middle School, the only school now without it.

District officials have had this at the top of their list, but three companies recently gave estimates for the job ranging from $1.8-$2.1 million.

These were way above earlier estimates of several hundred thousand dollars provided by the school district’s consulting firm.

2) Roof replacements, especially at Westside Elementary and Meyer Middle schools. In 2000 the school district went on a replacement binge to replace worn-out roofs, but some will soon again need replacing.

The current roof replacement estimate for next year is $1.5 million. Another $583,000 of roof work is projected for the next three years. (The school district budgets $250,000 a year in its overall maintenance budget.)

Current replacement needs are more costly because rooms already have two layers of tile. Another layer can’t be added, so the two layers must be stripped to the decking.

3) Foundation repairs, especially to Meyer Middle School, on the north side, where water leaks into the boys and girls locker rooms. The work here would include new drain tiles and earth grading.

At Greenwood Elementary School, where water leaks in by the loading dock area and into the newly equipped boiler room.

The two major foundation projects would total just over $400,000.

4) Security upgrades, at all schools, with less focus on the newer high school that has a more sophisticated security system. Spending would vary, depending on what is added, but the total could easily reach $920,000.

Better security might include an auto-locking system where doors can be controlled and programmed by remote; also use of programmable fobs replacing keys; and installing surveillance video cameras.

The security aim is to set up a computerized server to link all schools. Such a system would show by computer if a door is left unlocked or open.

The school board expects to receive administrative recommendations next month about how to spend the remaining $920,000 referendum money. Construction bids would likely be let in early February.

For more on this story, please see the Oct. 24 print edition of the River Falls Journal.