Building Operating Management

Using Master Plans to Address Funding Challenges in Facilities



Part 3 of a 5-part article on how facilities can effectively execute master plans to stay ahead of the game


A master plan can also help facility organizations address funding challenges.

The Elko County School District in Elko, Nev., is the fourth-largest county by size in the contiguous 48 states, covering more than 17,000 square miles. It has 22 school sites, ranging from single classrooms to Elko High School with 1,300 students. What’s more, with Elko County largely dependent on mining and ranching, the student population rises and falls with the price of gold, says Steve Bowers, building operations and construction manager for the district. According to the 2010 census, the county population was just shy of 49,000 people.

The district created its first master plan in September 1999 and updated it in 2001-2002. The plan contains triggers to indicate the need for a new school building. For example, modular classrooms are used to accommodate students when an existing facility is full. The master plan says that, when the total percentage of modular classrooms hits 30 percent, it’s time to start the process of building a new school.

Although it’s somewhat outdated, the plan still serves as a blueprint for the construction of new facilities, says Bowers.

The master plan is now under review to see if the district’s program is adequate, Bowers says. That’s because a new elementary school is being constructed and several items have come up that weren’t included in the master plan. The district now has all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten and needs to make sure it’s complying with state accreditation standards, such as square foot per student, Bowers says. Also, in recent projects, schools have requested gyms and multipurpose rooms, the latter also acting as a cafeteria so that the gym doesn’t need to fill that role, Bowers says.

The master plan provides a blueprint for designing new schools, providing guidance on how many classrooms and specialty classrooms are needed for a given size school. Because the school district is a pay-as-you-go system — paying for everything as the costs are incurred and not accumulating debt — the master plan means it can get accurate estimates on the costs of new schools and explain to taxpayers how their money is being spent. With the district’s revenues at about $12 million a year and a new elementary school costing between $30 million and $35 million to build, it takes a few years for the district to accumulate the necessary funds, Bowers says.

Funding was also challenging for the Cassia School District in Cassia County, Idaho, a district that is geographically larger than the state of Delaware and has 17 schools. The state is one of the few that requires a supermajority for bond approval, and Superintendent Gaylen Smyer says that after taxpayers approved a 20-year bond in 1996, it took until March of this year to get another one approved because taxpayers didn’t want to OK another bond until the 1996 bond was close to being paid off. The bond will help pay for new schools, additions, and renovations, all of which are needed because the student population has increased, Smyer says.

“The challenge was getting it all passed and getting people informed about the matter,” he says. “It was getting the information out there, getting people to understand the need, and getting them to support it.”

The master plan was critical to gaining public support, according to Smyer. Communities in the far-flung district see local schools as essential to their identities and want to know that the district is considering the facility-related needs of those schools. “Without a master plan, the community would have unanswered questions about schools and, in my opinion, would not support a tax increase to allow for the construction of facilities,” Smyer says in an email.




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  posted on 11/7/2015   Article Use Policy

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