Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

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Education:

Crumbling classrooms: CCSD places cost of most urgent repairs at $500M

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Steve Marcus

In this 2013 file photo, Stephen Molina, an HVAC technician for the Clark County School District, makes his way through a narrow passage between air handling units at Cashman Middle School. This year, CCSD officials said the cost of the most pressing repairs in district schools — including fixing air conditioning units — is more than $500 million.

Fixing the most pressing maintenance problems in the Clark County School District will cost more than a half-billion dollars, officials say.

According to a district list, 142 schools around the valley are still in need of major upgrades and replacements to crucial building components like air conditioning and boiler units. The repair bill for those problems will be $555,365,000.

A majority of the costs are due to aging systems at high schools. Upgrade costs often reach higher than $10 million for large schools. At Las Vegas Academy — originally Las Vegas High, which was built in 1930 — they reach as high as $25 million. That’s not even including such minor repairs as replacing door knobs or air filters.

But don’t expect everything to be fixed anytime soon.

Forced to choose between shoring up its crumbling infrastructure and building much-needed new schools, the district has prioritized the latter.

In deciding what to do with more than $4 billion in bond money approved by the Legislature last year, the district is on course to build 17 new elementary schools and add classrooms at a handful of others in the next five years to keep up with constant population growth.

That doesn’t leave much for repairs and upgrades.

Out of the 142 schools in need of improvements, only 19 are set to get them in the next five years. The district operates 356 schools total.

“We will not be able to address all of them,” said Jim McIntosh, district chief financial officer. “There isn’t enough money.”

Due to an already razor thin budget and the defeat of a badly needed bond initiative in 2012, many schools in Clark County have been slowly deteriorating for years.

Schools recently have been forced to close as air conditioning systems failed amid the sweltering summer heat, teachers have had to manage classrooms without electrical outlets or reliable Internet and vital custodian positions have gone unfilled. Overcrowding has only sped up wear and tear on existing schools, and the district’s maintenance budget was slashed by 20 percent in the aftermath of the recession.

And like many problems within CCSD, crumbling schools affect the city’s minority and low-income students the most. Many of the schools in need of the most urgent repairs are near downtown and are among the oldest in the district, and the neighborhoods nearby have high populations of Hispanic and low-income families.

“I understand schools are overcrowded, but we cannot continue to ignore our highest need kids,” said Sandy Miller, wife of former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller and namesake of Miller Elementary.

“This whole philosophy of building new schools for new people, what happens to the families who have been here for a long time?” she said. “We have kids who are just as valuable and worthy of a quality education, but because their families are not making a lot of noise, they are being ignored.”

The 19 buildings receiving upgrades include eight high schools, six elementary schools and five middle schools. Equipment at the schools are urgently in need of upgrades.

“They are going to have to spend this money,” McIntosh said. “If they don’t, the [equipment] is going to fail and we’re going to have to replace it.”

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While new schools and classroom additions will make up the bulk of the district’s construction spending in the next five years, the remaining five years of the bond period could see more funds freed up for maintenance, though the final decision lies with the school board.

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