District decides what to do next with construction funds

Building upgrades at Del Norte and Sunset high schools took center stage last week at the first of four public meetings focused on planning and prioritizing school facility improvements.

Elected officials, teachers, classified staff, administrators and community members discussed Del Norte County Unified School District's facilities master plan with Yreka architect Guy Fryer, of Siskiyou Design Group.

The list of potential projects include replacing the main kitchen, the windows and covered walk at Del Norte High as well as installing a commercial-home kitchen hybrid for Sunset High School's culinary arts program. Heating and ventilation systems at both schools need to be upgraded, with a new HVAC system installed in Sunset High's weight room, Fryer said. Parking lots and hallways also need upgrading, he said.

"Schools need to be attractive," Fryer said. "We used to not even think about that, but it's so important for people to feel welcome."

The district hired Fryer after receiving a $125,000 grants from the California Endowment to develop a facilities master plan. Officials hope to have the master plan finished before fall 2014, district Superintendent Don Olson said. The California Endowment selected Del Norte and three other school districts to receive funding for a facilities master plan, he said.

The plan will identify and prioritize short and long-term projects over 10 to 20 years, according to a district press release. Its development coincides with the board's decision to sell $5 million in general obligation bonds. According to Olson, once sold, the funds from that bond will be available for projects immediately.

"There is not a facility in the district that doesn't need significant work," he said.

Members of the district's Citizens Oversight Committee, which was created after Del Norte County voters approved the $25 million bond in 2008, also attended Tuesday's meeting.

Creating a facilities master plan is necessary for the district to receive further project funding through a state modernization grant, said Jeff Caldwell, the district's assistant superintendent of business services.

The state is expected to offer as much as $10 million in modernization funds to California school districts, Caldwell said. Voters statewide would have to pass a bond measure in November 2014, but there is already a waiting list in place for those funds, he said. The district is working to get on that waiting list.

In creating a facilities master plan, the district may also be eligible for funding through the California Clean Jobs Energy Act, which is expected to offer $1 million over the next five years, Caldwell said. To be eligible for that funding, districts must have an energy plan in place, he said.

Caldwell added that the district will also be developing a 10-year capital improvement plan.

"We're looking at over $25 million in the next five years to put to these projects," he said. "We've got to plan long term to see what projects need to be done now."

During the discussion, staff and community members also brought up school safety including ways of keeping unauthorized people from coming on campus at Del Norte High.

One teacher mentioned that a high school in Colorado requires its students to enter the campus through double doors after scanning an access card. Del Norte High is completely wide open on its back side.

Despite its easy access to the public, dangerous incidences at Del Norte High have been few, said Principal Coleen Parker.

"We're lucky to live in a community where we've not had that exposure to the dangers other communities have had," she said. "But it only takes one."

The next facilities master plan community meeting will focus on projects at Redwood and Smith River schools. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at Redwood School on Lake Earl Drive in Fort Dick.

For more information about the facilities master plan or the general obligation bond, call Jeff Caldwell, assistant superintendent of business services, at 464-0202.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.