VUSD board reviews massive 10-year facilities plan

(Rigo Moran)

Visalia Unified School District presents a 10-year spending plan for school facilities upkeep, indicating $737 million outlay by 2035

VISALIA – Visalia Unified’s board of trustees is staring down $737 million worth of improvements to all 41 schools according to a new report. Fortunately they don’t have to worry about it all at once.

The massive outlay of funds was the bottom line of a facilities assessment report discussed at the board’s Feb. 13 meeting. Chief Facilities Director Eric Kehrer quickly pointed out to the board the dollar amount does not apply to new purchases or projects, they only address the expected needs of VUSD schools over the next 10 years.

A prior estimate of the foreseen budget tagged the number close to a billion dollars, but after eliminating some duplicate data, the 10-year outlay now sits at $737 million.

“There are different categories, but it is important to realize this is just part of our long-range facilities plan. This is not necessarily just what we want,” Kehrer said in an interview with The Sun-Gazette. “The estimate that is in there doesn’t necessarily mean that is what we are going to spend, it depends on what the community wants to spend.”

Kehrer told the board that in the first two years of the plan, the assessment forecasts spending around $98 million on repairs ranging from paint and other minor projects to maintaining HVAC systems and other big jobs. He also pointed out that specific projects have not been identified completely and any decision on what projects are tackled first will require input from multiple stakeholders.

“There will be lots of input that will go into that decision and we will help to frame that using this data assessment,” Kehrer said. “This data helps us to frame how we explain what our needs are.”

The assessment was created in conjunction with PBK Architects, who looked at every aspect of every campus to create a database of projects that is several hundred items. The assessment has resulted in a database that allows facilities management to sort, organize and decipher the data in new ways. The assessment now makes forecasting the needs for projects at the district’s 41 schools simpler.

“As far as having this database where our working group is going to dig down in with the different priorities and breaking down the different priorities, I don’t know that we have ever had anything this interactive,” Kehrer said. “I have never seen something this searchable. This is kind of how we manage data now as opposed to 10 years ago.”

The 10-year master plan is still in its infancy and will require additional work before the VUSD Facilities department is prepared to present specific projects or spend any money. Kehrer said that having the data assessment is simply a tool that will help to guide the decision-making process as the development of the master plan moves forward.

After hearing the explanation of the data assessment, the VUSD board voted unanimously to accept the data and move forward with the development of a long-term facilities plan. Kehrer told the board that the working groups are currently holding bi-weekly meetings to begin sorting and assessing the data and coming up with some of the most important options for the first year or two of maintenance.

In March or April, the facilities groups will begin actively seeking community input on what the parents, teachers, and other people impacted by schools see as priorities. By June, Kehrer expects to have a plan ready for final approval by the board.

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