Comment 86998

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2013 at 19:05:59

Renos cost more than new schools
The public school board is paying close to

$19 million to renovate a pair of schools —

$2.5 million more than it would cost to replace them.

On Monday, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees officially approved $18.7 million in repairs and renovations at Dalewood Middle School and G.R. Allan elementary — a move that comes at a time when the board is already strapped for capital cash.

However, data from a 2011 board report shows it would cost less to replace the two west Hamilton facilities entirely.

“The feedback we got from the community is that they wanted to maintain the schools that were there,” board chair Tim Simmons said Friday. “The community spoke and the board listened.”

The rationale, Simmons added, is that it's more economical for the board to carry out structural repairs — what it calls “legacy costs” — at the same time as capital improvements.

Last spring, the board committed $5.8 million to capital projects at the two schools, such as a new gym and classrooms at G.R. Allan, in an accommodation review that will see neighbouring Prince Philip elementary close.

“Because they're old buildings, it doesn't make sense to tear a wall apart to put new wiring in and then take it apart later to do your windows,” he said. “It's not unreasonable to have to do this.”

But some board members disagree with the decision — particularly the project's hefty price tag, which they say came out of left field.

“When there was talk about Dalewood, there was definitely talk about expensive renovations that would be required,” said trustee Karen Turkstra, who resigned from her position as finance subcommittee chair over the issue. “Never was it mentioned that the board would be funding all of those legacy costs, because it can't.”

“When we went through the Dalewood accommodation review, we approved $5.8 million in renovations,” added trustee Todd White. “How did we get an extra $13 million added to this bill? It doesn't make sense.”

Dan Del Bianco, senior facilities manager for the board, said repair costs have always been part of the equation. He said the $13 million represents renewal needs at the two schools 10 years down the road.

“Everybody has always been aware of what the legacy costs at those schools are,” he said. “Those were always captured in the reports.”

There's also the question of funding.

Although the Ministry of Education has committed $3.8 million to the G.R. Allan expansion, the board is on the hook for the balance of the project — around $15 million. Each year, the province doles out just $7 million for capital repairs to be split between the board's 113 schools.

Currently, the board estimates its facilities need around $346 million in deferred maintenance. Dalewood is among a dozen schools in the board considered in “poor condition,” requiring more than

$4 million in repairs.

According to Del Bianco, the plan is to cover the gap through renewal grants and school dispositions. That's also how the board will help fund an additional $81 million in newly approved capital projects, such as a new high school on the Mountain and a major renovation at Highland Secondary in Dundas.

Overall, the board is counting on more than $63 million from the sale of vacant schools and properties to help cover the tab.

“I understand staff's recommendation, that if we've got the walls open, we'll fix some other things. I'm all for that,” said Turkstra. “But we can't fix them all.”

“We're supposed to be big picture people who look at the whole system,” she added.

Although the board has formally approved the plan, Turkstra has requested the education director to provide an in-camera report on the board's ability to fund capital costs associated with accommodation reviews — an additional 14 of which are forthcoming.

The board will consider Turkstra's request later this month.

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