Following bond failure, GUSB puts contingency plans on the table

By 
Jamie Ausk Crisafulli
Thursday, April 16, 2020

 

Washington Middle School had a steam pipe leak on March 25, the morning after the school bond issue failed. Watch a video of the leak in the e-edition of this issue of the Ranger-Review or at rangerreview.com.

 

Not even 12 hours after the reality set in that school officials would have to go back to the drawing board to determine how to deal with school facilities issues following an unsuccessful bond election, like clockwork, steam pipes at Washington Middle School sprung a leak.

This was a familiar sight – WMS has had major issues with steam leaks and water pipe leaks over the past decade – but the timing was noteworthy.

It was the morning after local residents voted down a $32 million elementary school district bond issue that would have, among many other things, replaced the antiquated systems in the 100-year-old Washington Middle School.

It seemed a little ironic, but not surprising. Something very similar happened last fall, again the morning after a bond issue failed.

“I don’t know why this has happened twice now, but last fall, the day after the bond vote, we had something similar to this. …We thought that was kind of interesting, that was the day after the bond vote. The same thing happened this morning, what that says, I have no idea,” Superintendent of Schools Stephen Schreibeis told the Glendive Unified School Board on March 25.

The Glendive Unified School Board was meeting to canvas the results of the March 24 vote, among other things.

What Schreibeis said he is sure of is that major building issues like steam leaks at WMS will not be going away any time soon.

“Our buildings aren’t going to get better on their own, so what we’re going to do is do what we’ve been doing: Use the money we have to prioritize the building needs,” he said. “When this happens, we fix it. We band aid it the best we can and move on.”

Those limited funds will only go so far. If the school district is still able to secure the $750,000 Delivering Local Assistance grant for repairs at WMS, which is in question because bond funds were to be used as a match, there are millions of dollars of major repairs to be done throughout the district.

The district is “constantly battling” issues like the leak at WMS, according to Schreibeis. Much of this has been done quietly over the years, although he noted district officials have made an effort to make the public more aware of the facilities challenges they are facing in recent months.

Contingency plan

The mention of the recent pipe leaks at WMS provided the perfect segue for GUSB trustee Paul Hopfauf to bring up an issue he said he has been thinking about for some time: a contingency plan for Glendive schools.

Hopfauf said he wanted to bring the idea to the table in recent months, adding he resisted during the bond election for fear that it may sound like the board was being heavy handed during the bond election.

But the issue can’t wait any longer, he said. The district must develop a plan for what to do when a major system interruption in a school building in the district makes it impossible to hold school for what Hopfauf said was “a potentially an indefinite amount of time.”

“The reality is that the probability is exceedingly high that within the next four or five years we are going to have a catastrophic event that creates some major inconveniences for some period of time. It’s just the reality,” Hopfauf said.

Hopfauf noted the district has been fortunate in the past, with major and disruptive building issues coming at times when school wasn’t in session. One example discussed was the basement flood of Jefferson Elementary School in the summer of 2016.

The flood happened in early August and resulted in a several week delay of the start of school. Hopfauf noted that had the flood happened in January, the impact to repair would have been much greater.

Schreibeis was the Jefferson principal when the basement flooded and said at that time he looked into several alternative locations to hold school, including the EPEC and Sacred Heart School, but said he found at that time that it was very difficult to find a location that would satisfy state education requirements.

“Basically you would have them spread out all over. It’s a little bit more complex, you have to have a cafeteria, bathrooms, places for them to play. There’s a lot of different elements that makes having these contingency plans really difficult,” Schreibeis noted.

Even so, he said having a contingency plan in place is necessary. He added that if either of the boilers at Lincoln or Washington go out during the winter, students will be displaced for an extended amount of time.

“One, it’s always good to have a plan in place before you get to that point. But, two, once that plan is in place a goodly piece of that plan may involve what parents are going to do with their kids, depending on what that contingency looks like,” Hopfauf said.

Having a plan ahead of time will give those parents some idea of the impact it will have on their students and families, he noted.

“I think that it’s very important, we need to put something in place. Obviously the community is not interested in providing a bond to help us in that aspect, so we need to figure out a contingency plan,” GUSB Chairman Kristine Mothershead said.

The board voted to canvas the vote from the March 24 bond election and indicated that further discussion about a district-wide facilities contingency plan would take place in the future.

Reach Jamie Ausk Crisafulli at rreditor@rangerreview.com.

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