The Rancho Santa Fe School District received a report on the condition of its school gym on March 8, hearing the conditions assessment firm EMG’s findings that the building is safe, has been well-maintained and is in “good to fair” overall condition.
According to Brad Johnson, RSF School District’s chief business officer, the report listed the need for immediate repairs of $322,639 and almost $900,000 over the next 20 years for a building that is valued at $1.8 million.
“It’s valuable that we did this report, I’m glad we have it. But as I said several months ago, I’m convinced of the need, and even more than the need, the potential benefit of a new athletic center,” said RSF School Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer.
“We talk a lot about excellence, I hear a lot about that in board discussions and public discussions. Our expectations as board members is that we want excellence in curriculum, we want excellent teachers, we want excellent safety procedures and protocols and, hopefully, we have excellent facilities and all of that combined prepares and creates excellence in students,” Seltzer said. “I don’t believe that the current gym, which has been here for 40-plus years, is an excellent facility. I’m open to be convinced on the size, scope and cost but, in my opinion, I am convinced what a great benefit a new state-of-the-art athletic facility and center would be to this school and to this community at large, one that would last and sustain itself for the next 40 years.”
Since last year, the district has been exploring the possibility of a 2018 general obligation bond to finance a new school gym, hearing from architectural firms as they discuss refreshing the district master plan as well as hearing from bond consultants. The EMG facility condition assessment was approved in January, at clerk Sarah Neal’s request.
In January 2016, the board received a report from Webb Cleff Architecture and Engineering (now StudioWC) that without any repairs, the useful life of the gym was five to 10 years. Built in 1973, the building can continue to operate under the code under which it was constructed but any revisions to the structure would trigger an accessibility upgrade for it to be in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
The study prepared by EMG this February, rated the building’s components on a scale of “good” to “very poor,” with very poor meaning the building has reached the end of its useful life. Johnson said components such as interiors, structure, plumbing and electrical systems rated at a high level while the roof and fire safety rated as fair, “subjected to wear and soiling but still in a serviceable and functioning condition.”
The report stated that the roof is 44 years old and will need to be repaired and although the current code mandates the installation of fire sprinklers on new buildings, the building is compliant with its present smoke detection and fire alarm system.
“While many individual components are in good condition, costs to upkeep the facility categorize the final Facilities Condition Index scores in the poor range,” Johnson said. “Actual replacement value would be much higher if modernizing or building new.”
A seismic study was also conducted, concluding that the risk of loss is very low, Johnson said.
Johnson included general obligation bond interest rates in his report on EMG’s findings as part of the district’s next steps, noting that interest rates are increasing which would have an effect on borrowing; the total amount of bond proceeds available for the district will decrease.
Neal objected to the discussion of bond rates as part of the gym discussion as it was not on the agenda. The district’s attorney Richard Currier agreed that her objection was appropriate—a discussion on the bond was requested to be placed on the next board meeting’s agenda.
Board member Scott Kahn said that, as a parent, he has experienced firsthand the deficiencies in the gym facility, particularly during after-school sports. He said there are obviously programming opportunities that aren’t available for students “simply because we don’t have the space to do it.”
“From a safety perspective, it’s not clearly unsafe, it’s not going to fall down,” Kahn said. “But what we’re going to invest in it and what it’s worth, it seems like it does require a lot more thought.”
RSF School Board President Todd Frank agreed, noting that he is happy that the building is safe but that there is a lot to think about before putting $800,000 in a building that is worth $1.6 million.
“I’m glad we got this assessment done and it’s just making me think more about the need for a facility maybe sooner rather than later and thinking about what’s possible and not what we can get by with,” Frank said, speaking to the benefit of the ability to run multiple games and create a more “inspiring” and “enjoyable” environment for all.
Neal said she has thought a lot about the initiative for a new gym and wanted to have all the facts necessary to make a decision, including the report performed by an independent engineer.
“When I got on this board I was told we were nearing the end of the useful life of that gym and that’s not true, now that we have this information,” Neal said.
Neal said it is important for the board and community to understand the costs involved in the effort for a new facility—the costs of a new gym (last estimated at $12 million to $22 million), the cost to place a measure on the ballot and the increase to property taxes. She said a lot more planning work needs to be done before they talk about bonds —she would like to see the district create a deferred maintenance plan for the whole campus before they make any investments in facilities and a master plan process that involves stakeholder input.
“We need to set district goals. If the community and the board want a new gym, I’m all for it but we need to be clear on all of our goals,” Neal said. “This should not be fast-tracked. I don’t care about the interest rates, it should not be fast-tracked. This is a very important conversation.”
Frank said he was not opposed to reviewing the bond process more thoroughly and having future agenda items that addressed Neal’s questions.
“I’m supportive of whatever my fellow board members need to see to believe in the long-term benefit of a new athletic center,” Seltzer said.
He said all of the information on costs is valid and and necessary to have and added that the board members did spend hours talking about their “visions” and goals in a board workshop on March 6. “I don’t think it’s irresponsible or fast-tracking to see (an athletic center) as a long-term, tremendous benefit to this school and this community,” he said.