Aging buildings require action now, LPS officials say

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Diane Doney, chief operating officer of Littleton Public Schools, says a recent audit of the district’s facilities revealed the likely need to go to voters for an $80 million bond issue this year, rather than waiting until 2014 as originally planned.

“We’re spending down this year on roofs, but pretty soon, we’re going to have to decide to do something,” she told the board of education on June 27.

Surveying the needs of the district was led by volunteer David Metcalf, who worked on LPS bond elections in 2002 and 1995.

“The whole idea is to keep moving to keep the district competitive,” he told the board. “We need to make sure the buildings stay up to date with our academic standards.”

Doney said a recent community survey showed that’s a high priority for district residents. They placed high value on maintaining a safe learning environment while preparing kids for jobs of the future.

“Our community wants our students to be ready to compete out there in the marketplace,” she said.

Superintendent Scott Murphy has said the time is right to take advantage of low interest rates for what amounts to refinancing a mortgage — not a tax increase, he stresses. LPS has historically put a bond issue on the ballot every seven to 10 years; it’s been 11 since the last one. With the average age of the buildings around 50 years, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Doney said the exact list of needs compiled by Metcalf’s committee isn’t quite ready to be released, but it’s extensive.

“I think we’re above that $80 million mark already,” she said.

The board is scheduled to vote on whether to go forward on Aug. 8. A bond issue would strictly be used for building maintenance and basic infrastructure such as sewer lines, gym floors, furnaces and electrical systems.

Metcalf said the committee has spent a lot of time making sure projects get done efficiently.

“We need to see how they’re all going to go together and make sure we don’t open the ceiling four times for four different things,” said Metcalf.

Murphy stresses that a proposed statewide $1.1 billion tax increase for education — planned to be on the ballot this fall — has absolutely nothing to do with this local question, and that it does nothing to address capital improvements.

“Whether people say yes or no to the state issue has nothing to do with the buildings,” he said. “This is totally a community issue.”

A bond is not a tax, rather more like a loan that has to be repaid with interest. As with raising taxes, government entities need voter permission to accrue large amounts of debt.

The last time LPS went to the voters was in 2010, when they passed a $12 million mill-levy override, or property-tax increase. That money has maintained the district’s current level of service, despite decreases in state and federal funding. It will likely be several years until another there’s another one.

“I call it the ‘Mr. and Mrs. Citizen test,’” said Jim Woods, the district’s outreach coordinator, stressing the need to put forth credible evidence. “We can’t delay. We don’t know what the circumstances will be in 2014, either.”