ENID — Enid Public Schools officials believe they have a winning plan to make some much-needed improvements to school facilities.
The success of their plan to build two new elementary schools, do renovation work in all the other buildings and to renovate D. Bruce Selby Stadium hinges on three key selling points, officials say
First is the confirmed growth of the district and the predicted growth of the district. Enid Public Schools gained 300 new students just this year and has gained 600 students in the last four years, school officials report.
“Enid Public Schools is growing,” Superintendent Shawn Hime said. “We have to, as a community, realize we’re going to be a growing community with a growing population.”
The second selling point, Hime said, is that more than 30 community members were pulled together to help develop the facilities improvement plan. This group looked at the facilities for more than a year and came up with the needed improvements, Hime said.
“It is a well thought-out plan,” said Martie Oyler, a parent and member of the facilities group. “We spent 12 months. We reviewed the sites and discussed improvements to the sites, and we came up with what we feel is a wonderful plan.”
The third and possibly the most crucial key, officials say, is the plan to complete construction of all the facilities in about a three-year time frame.
“One exciting thing that’s different than what you’ve seen in Enid in the past is this allows for the plan to be completed in 24 to 36 months,” Hime said.
Hime said a new financing option allows the district to get the work done quickly instead of five to 10 years down the road as the debt is retired.
“Its feasible that students in the kindergarten will actually be attending school in a brand new school by the time they are in second grade,” Hime said. “That’s exciting to think about.”
Enid is a growing school district
When Hime was hired as superintendent of Enid Public Schools, he said he realized right away schools were over capacity.
In his first year, the district realigned its schools, sending sixth-graders to the three junior high buildings, which became middle schools, and moving ninth-grade students to the high school.
Still, with that transition completed, seven of 10 Enid elementary schools remained over capacity. Even with the removal of sixth-graders, only Adams, Coolidge and Monroe buildings are at or under capacity. Garfield Elem-entary School — the district’s oldest and most decayed building — has 395 students in it, and the capacity is only supposed to be about 316 students.
When officials started projecting enrollment growth from 2008-09, they believed they would gain about 50 students. Instead, they gained 300, topping their projected enrollment for 2012-13. They anticipate another 500 students through 2018, unless they see another big spike in enrollment in the next few years.
With these numbers in mind, district officials have been contemplating how to plan for the future.
They already knew something still had to be done about Garfield Elementary School. In 2007, voters barely failed to pass a bond measure that would have replaced that school with a new building.
This current bond issue includes building a new Garfield, and it also includes building a new elementary school on the west side of Enid.
School officials already have tentatively identified potential sites for both new schools. The old armory site at Elm and 6th is big enough to accommodate a new school building, and it’s located two blocks from the current Gar-field. The National Guard will move to a new Armed Forces Reserve Center being built at Vance Air Force Base, and the time frame allows for that site to be available to build a new Garfield.
On the west side, there are several acreages around Garland that could accommodate a new 74,000-square-foot school.
All the other school buildings would receive renovations and updates, with additional classrooms added at Waller Middle School, new corridors at Hoover Elementary School and a new cafeteria at Adams Elementary School, which is the only elementary school other than Garfield not to have its own cafeteria.
In trying to determine how best to develop a plan to upgrade facilities for the students, Hime started by talking to teachers in the district.
“In August 2008 we started with a form from the teachers about what they think needed to be done in their buildings,” Hime said.
Sherri Hendrie, a teacher at McKinley and also president of Enid Education Association, also was tasked with being on the facilities committee.
“The teachers have kind of been involved in the process from the beginning,” she said. “Mr. Hime came out and spoke to all of the staff. The teachers have been able to have some input and share some of their thoughts and ideas. I think they are very excited.”
The task force comprised of community members also received input from the Facility Program Management group, an architectural firm specializing in school facility projects.
The community members went on tours of all the schools, visited with the staffs and developed their own ideas about how to improve all the school buildings.
“As we went through the process with the facility committee, we put together several options,” Hime said. “What would it cost for two new schools versus adding classrooms at existing schools, for example.”
Stan Brownlee, a community member who has served as a mentor at McKinley, also was on the committee. For him, the bond issue isn’t just about good facilities for the students, it’s about creating good facilities for the community.
“Our schools are our selling point for the community,” he said. “Even if they are good on the inside, they don’t look good from the curb. We need to look better.”
Brownlee said he also had some insight about what students need since he is in the schools on a regular basis.
“I think it’s well thought out,” he said. “It shows some vision and it allows for growth.”
Abbey Stallings, a former Enid school board candidate, also served on the facilities planning committee.
“Enid is growing, and growth is a good thing,” she said. “A group of people from a cross-section of the community really put a lot of time into researching what the town needs. Our community is growing ... we need to keep up with that growth.”
Since Enid Board of Education approved calling for the bond issue, these same community members have been helping spread the word about the bond issue. They’ve helped set up meetings with civic groups, parent-teacher organizations, churches and community groups to give the bond presentation.
“I think we have a really good thing going here,” Hendrie said. “It’s always positive feedback (from the teachers). I think they are very excited.”
She said she expects members of Enid Education Association to vote in favor of the plan.
“The EEA is always going to support things that support education,” she said.
Getting the projects done on time and under
In 2003 voters approved a $25 million bond issue and sales tax question earmarked to renovate every site in the Enid Public Schools district. Other Garfield County school districts shared $2 million of the city sales tax proceeds. Hime said he’s serious about the school district’s accountability in doing what has been promised in a bond issue.
That’s why he asked the Facility Program Management firm to help with developing the estimates for the plan, and it’s also a reason the school board hired the Carter Program Management of Atlanta to oversee construction. The firm would be paid 2.5 percent of the overall construction costs, and its task will be to make sure all construction is done as efficiently as possible.
“The worst thing we can do is bid projects out, and they come in significantly over budget and we have to start cutting back,” Hime said.
He turned to both Facility and Carter for help since they had experience with large-scale projects, such as MAPS for Kids in Oklahoma City.
The district also is using a new financial tool called Build America Bonds for this bond program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the Build America Bond program, which authorizes state and local governments to issue Build America Bonds as taxable bonds in 2009 and 2010 to finance any capital expenditures for which they otherwise could issue tax-exempt governmental bonds. State and local governments receive a direct federal subsidy payment for a portion of their borrowing costs on Build America Bonds equal to 35 percent of the total coupon interest paid to investors.
The financial aspects of the bond issue have caused some concern among local residents. Ken Fischer, who said he owns 16 rental properties, has been a vocal critic of the district’s plan and the cost estimates.
“If there’s one thing I’m pretty confident of is when you talk issues of a lot of money, there’s more opportunity for waste and cost overruns and things like that,” Fischer said.
Fischer said one of his issues is “getting what we paid for. In 2003, we didn’t get what we paid for.”
In the 2003 bond issue, the district’s renovation and construction plan was carried out over a number of years. During that time, construction costs increased dramatically due to natural disasters and materials shortages.
Hime said Fischer’s concerns are one reason he likes the Build America Bonds program because it allows the district to lock in current construction costs and complete the new facilities in three years instead of having a long-term construction plan.
“Being able to do this up front saves about $71 million in construction costs rather than having to build it in 15 to 20 years,” Hime said. “We want to get this on the street and bid out while the construction costs are held down by the current recession.”
Fischer also has expressed concern about some of the estimates in the plan. He has criticized what he calls “inflated” prices for certain items, like doors and water fountains.
Danny Jardine, who is with the Carter group but put together the program’s estimates when he was with the Facility group, said the figures are reasonable.
“We’ve gone back and double checked,” Jardine said. “(The estimates) are based on thousands of projects we’ve done and kept in our database.”
Jardine said people need to understand high-quality and commercial-quality materials have to be used in school buildings, which get a lot of public use and are expected to last for a number of years.
“We don’t use cheap doors because kids will destroy them,” he said. “We use doors that last a lifetime. There is a tremendous difference in the level of materials for residential and for schools.”
Hiring Carter also will help keep costs and change orders down, Hime said. He said the firm will have representatives in Enid over the 24 to 36 months overseeing all the projects.
Don Rose, who was on the facilities planning committee, also has double-checked the estimates for the projects.
“These projects will be competitively bid,” Rose said. “What we will see will be the most competitively bid structured price. Competition brings the price down.”
“These kids deserve 2010 school facilities,” Jardine said. “There have been a lot of changes in schools. What we’re trying to accomplish for the students of Enid is to provide them good facilities that will allow them to compete nationally and globally when they go out to compete for colleges and jobs.”
Education reporter Bridget Nash contributed to this story.