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When Iowa provided its school districts ongoing funds for school buildings and infrastructure needs through a state-wide sales tax starting in 2009, Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) decided to take a back-to-basics approach that would prioritize the needs of students above all other considerations. As part of the Students First program, the DMPS facilities advisory committee developed a 5-year plan with a 10-year vision that is a guide for renovations in Des Moines Public Schools.
The district has 62 schools, with an average facility age of 60. The top three concerns of the renovations have been student and staff safety and security, replacement of obsolete, inefficient or worn out equipment or systems, and money-saving strategies. The district has tackled these concerns through a variety of strategies. For example, it moved the construction management function back in-house to save money that can then be fed into student-facing projects. There's also a big focus on energy strategies because utilities are paid out of the general fund, which is also where teacher salaries come from. "We've been able to save millions of dollars in energy costs over the past few years as a result of changing our focus," says Bill Good, chief operations officer with DMPS.
Improving the educational environment for students has been a big driver of renovations as well. For example, not too long ago, many classrooms in DMPS didn't have air conditioning. Now, 96 percent have air conditioning, a figure that has jumped by 40 percent in the last five years, says Good. "We took the stance that adults expect air conditioning wherever they go and work," he says. "Why shouldn't it be in place for students? That was one of our more student-focused approaches."
Moving temporary classroom space back within the permanent school has been another big focus, with just a handful of mobile classrooms left in use, down from 38 five years ago. "We want classrooms to be a part of the school, not separate from," Good says. It's primarily a security issue. "We're saying we're not going to put temporary classrooms up. We're going to look at other means to keep the kids inside the self-contained school."
To complete renovation projects, DMPS is using bonds to implement the Student First program, with the tax revenue from the state paying back the debt over time. By using bonds instead of delaying projects until funded directly through tax revenue, DMPS is avoiding roughly $58 million in additional construction costs.
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