Broken Arrow Public Schools targeting infrastructure with $52 million fall bond issue
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Broken Arrow’s school district is typically seen among the haves vs. the have nots, with its voluminous academic and arts programs and state-of-the-art sports facilities.
But when one looks beneath the surface to the infrastructure of the school district housing more than 20,000 students, it’s showing signs of age. The district found itself playing catch-up with enrollment growth when voters approved bond issues in 2009 and 2015.
Broken Arrow Public Schools plans to put its next bond issue before voters this fall, billing it as “Back to Basics” with a focus on infrastructure needs. The BAPS Board of Education approved the election scheduling and the final list of capital projects Monday and the general obligation bond election is slated for Nov. 14.
The $52 million, 5-year bond will be presented to the voters as four separate questions, each of which will require a 60% voter approval rate to pass. The district said due to increased valuations that taxes would not go up if the bond issues were approved.
Here is a rundown of each proposition:
* Proposition 1 -- $48 million: This will focus on safety, technology, transportation and facility improvements across the district. The bonds will allow BAPS to replace failing roofs, aging HVAC units and make safety enhancements such as a perimeter fence at the high school. The measure would also include WiFi and infrastructure upgrades, desktop and tablet replacement, classroom display enhancements, and the creation of a transportation terminal in the southern end of the district.
A renovation of existing spaces at BAHS into Fine Arts practice and storage areas, and an updated facility for the high school tennis teams is also included.
* Proposition 2 -- $4 million: State law requires districts to separate buses from other items in a bond issue, so this proposition is limited only to transportation expenses. This measure if passed would enable will enable the district to continue its replacement cycle of school buses, keeping the average age of a bus to around 13 years.
* Propositions 3 and 4: These will ask voters to reconsider the details of two projects listed on the 2015 bond issue – an elementary school and the location of the aquatic center – but neither proposition asks for more funding. The 2015 bond included a project named “Elementary 17” which has yet to be constructed, because the dollars are not yet available for expenditure.
Rather than add another elementary – which school officials said could add to the district’s operating cost and force another redistricting – classroom space is proposed to be added to existing schools.
BAPS Supt. Chuck Perry said this idea was vetted and approved by the district’s Long-range Planning Committee and an advisory group of parents, employees and administrators who helped the school district prioritize the projects included on this bond.
“I would love realtors to be as honest as possible but people buy homes and want to go to certain elementaries, and we can’t guarantee that because of growth,” Perry told attendees of a recent bond forum. “We’re trying to manage that better.”
If voters don’t approve the change, Elementary 17 will be built as planned, but due to inflation costs will reduce the overall size of the building.
Proposition 4 has to do with the location of the aquatic center, but the construction timeline and amount allocated to the project – $35 million – would not change. The bond dollars allocated to the pool are not available until 2025, so this project has not yet started.
The city of Broken Arrow and BAPS are in talks over potentially moving the aquatic center to Elam Park, an estimated $56 million destination park going up in southwest Broken Arrow. If the measure is approved, it could still be built at the Kirkland Activities Complex as originally planned but Elam Park could also be selected.
The city of Broken Arrow and BAPS have split the cost of a needs analysis and feasibility study for the complex and are discussing a partnership so BAPS and Broken Arrow residents could utilize the complex. The concept is to build a competitive facility that could host swim meets and bring in revenue to help offset operational expenses.
Protecting kids and staff
Broken Arrow Public Schools encompasses 104 square miles with 37 individual sites that must be maintained. That includes 1,000 acres of property with 3.3 million square feet of building space — which is the equivalent of three Woodland Hills malls.
BAPS has 1,200 instructional spaces and classrooms for students and teachers, and 325 offices.
Associate Supt. Larry Shackelford, who runs the district’s Operating Services Division, said it costs the district $11,000 every time the grounds are mowed.
The district has logged more than 600 work orders for roof incidents this year that have totaled about $300,000. BAPS had auditors on top of every roof in the district this year and asked the firm to rate the worst roofs and estimate how many were an “F” for failed. The total was 11.
“We don’t want that for our kids and our staff,” Shackelford said during a recent forum about the impending bond issue.
Water infrastructure is another point of pain for BAPS, he said. A hot water heater failure this year at Liberty Elementary School flooded the administration area and front offices with 6 inches of water, causing $60,000 in damage. The water heater was 25 years old.
The news isn’t better with heating and cooling systems in the buildings. BAPS has 1,600 rooftop units, 583 of which are more than 20 years old. The district has completed 1,400 work orders this school year alone for HVAC repairs.
Many sites also need chairs and desks, Shackelford said. Since the district doesn’t have enough money to buy them all, crews bought rivets and had to repair about 100 chairs.
School officials noted that 90% of the district’s $155 million general fund goes for paying salaries, which means much of the infrastructure repair comes out of the district’s building fund that only has $5 million to $6 million per year.
“Without the bond issues we will never be able to maintain excellence in our infrastructure to the standard that we want,” Shackelford said.
Another area BAPS wants to address is security of its buildings, especially Broken Arrow High School.
The high school was designed to have a polished and open feel, but in the age of increased violence and threats against schools the district wants to have a common entrance as the high school that can be secured and monitored, said Derek Blackburn, executive director of student services for BAPS.
“The rest of the schools are all under one roof, and we want to make sure we have a very secure place where students and staff feel comfortable,” he said. “An open concept is no longer ideal.”
Another changed the district is considering is a fence around the complex.
Blackburn noted the district has more than 1,000 surveillance cameras and most are over 10 years old. Updating the cameras and surveillance technology so the security staff can utilize cameras with analytics may cost about $800,000.
The district also faces a need to replace approximately 600 radios with modern units that have encrypted channels so threats can be communicated without spreading sensitive information or revealing student’s name.
The district also wants to install covered walkways at the high school to protect pedestrians from the weather and reduce the slip-and-fall risk. The cost would be just over $1 million.
Technology challenges aren’t as easy to see, but BAPS Chief Technology Officer Ashley Bowser says they are real. The district hasn’t been able to purchase the replacement projectors it needs, and smart boards in the classrooms are about a decade old. BAPS is buying nearly 3,000 Chromebooks each year at $360 each, while teachers are mostly using desktop computers in their classrooms.
Having technology equipment up to date will be important as more and more curriculum and students are online,” Bowser noted.
“One of the things not seen in the background is our network, the wireless access points and the switches. It all has to be maintained,” she said. “A lot of buildings have the same internet structure as they had 10 years ago. We want our kids to be 21st century learners and engaged.”
Ramping up logistics
Transportation is another major area of focus with BAPS, which is currently transporting 12,000 students a day over 100 square miles. A single bus replaces 30 to 50 cars on the road, so one could imagine what the lines would be like for parents at the schools without them, says Rosalyn Vann-Jackson, executive director of BAPS Enrollment and Support Services.
A major goal through the bond issue is to secure funding for a bus terminal in south Broken Arrow, which could allow BAPS the flexibility to let elementary students start their day an hour earlier.
The current bus terminal is in northern Broken Arrow and is well placed but leads to travel times of 25-35 minutes for bus drivers.
Vann-Jackson said Tulsa Public Schools has double square mileage but has 4 transportation terminals. Union Public Schools has one terminal but is only 28 square miles.
“Elementary students are there too late. If their day could end earlier there may be better student outcomes.”