Friday, May 17, 2019

K-5 Modular Expansion Project Update

Hard to believe it is already mid-May and we are just weeks away from the close of another incredible school year here in the Gorham Schools.  With the ending of another school year comes the whirlwind of events celebrating the accomplishments of our students, and the hard work that goes into helping students and families transition from one grade to the next and from one school to another. 

FY 20 Proposed Budget Quick "Plug"

Another "not so small" thing that occurs during this time of the year is our school budget approval process.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on this blog post regarding the FY 20 budget, only to say that it has passed the school committee by a vote of 6-1, we have had a very productive budget workshop meeting with the Town Council and it is ready to be voted on by the Town Council on June 4.  If you would like more details on our proposed budget, please visit our web page linked HERE where you can find all the details you can handle!  You can also review the "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) I've put together to communicate the essential pieces of our proposed FY 20 school budget.  Please review and don't forget to get out and VOTE on June 11th!  THANK YOU!

The Proposed K-5 Modular Expansion Project at Narragansett Elementary School

SOME CONTEXT FOR WHY WE ARE PROPOSING THIS PROJECT. . . As you know, we've been experiencing significant growth over the past four years, actually increasing by 155 students in grades K-5 alone between 2015 and this school year.  The School Committee has been working over the past 3 years to develop a comprehensive long term facilities strategy/plan to address not only the current growth but the continued projected growth of our K-12 populations here in Gorham.  You can see those projections by CLICKING HERE and you can review a "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) that I put together to explain the K-5 modular project and its need. 

In addition to our facilities needs at the K-5 levels, I'm sure most folks are also fairly familiar with the needs at our High School Level.  To be clear, we will NOT be bringing forward a $97,000,000.00 high school project to the voters as that figure is simply too high, but we are still left with figuring out what we will do to address the needs at this level as well.  Again, I've created a "one-pager" to try and communicate those needs that is LINKED HERE

I mention the potential high school project here in order to be clear that due to growth, the community of Gorham is likely going to need to find a way to support TWO capital projects (not one) which plays heavily into our long term planning strategy and is part of the reason why we are electing to do what we want to do with the K-5 modular expansion project.  We are operating under the very likely and well-educated assumption that we will NOT be eligible for state funding for two capital projects. Of the two projects we need, we are more likely to get state funding support for an Elementary capital project than we would be for a high school project (this would take me another 2 blog posts to explain, but please understand we have asked enough questions to believe this to be true).  Therefore, we are looking to position ourselves to locally fund the long term needs at the high school level and to position ourselves at the K-5 level to be approved for a state-funded project.

State-funded projects take time...often as many as 6-8 years from the time an application is even made, and unfortunately the state is likely not to have another application cycle for 2 more years.  Therefore, the project we are suggesting is what we are calling a "mid-range" solution to K-5 growth that will last us 10-15 years whereby at the end of that time frame we would be positioned to build a state-funded capital expansion that would be at least 85% paid for by the State of Maine.  This "mid-range" solution will cost approximately $2.8 million dollars (in FY 20) and another $2.8 million dollars in FY 23 or 24 (depending upon continued growth) but will ultimately save the community upwards of $25 million dollars for a long term solution.   Here's another way to see that same information for those of you that like spreadsheets.  The first spreadsheet illustrates anticipated costs associated with our proposed plan in order to get us from where we are to a true long term solution (a capital expansion at the K-5 level that would house all students anticipated):

Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $12,630,900.00.

The second spreadsheet illustrates for you the local costs that would be associated if we do not follow this plan, and instead look to do something different in phases like permanent construction at Narragansett in smaller chunks, or even possible renovation of another location with local funds.

Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $38,543,976.00.

Again, these are illustrations only, so please don't get caught up in the specific dollar figures, but instead, try to focus on the relationships between costs for one plan vs. another.

The key to understanding the differences is that the modular expansion sets us up for an MDOE approved capital project within the next 10-15 years that would be at least 85% funded by the state, whereas other alternatives would place the burden of dealing with short, mid-range, and long term solutions on the backs of our local taxpayers entirely.

An Overview of the Long Range Plan

To make a long story short (I know, too late)...after several years of study, the school committee believes that the most efficient and cost-effective way to move forward and address our issues of growth is as follows:

1.  Maintain our existing K-5 elementary school structures.
2.  Create a "mid-range" expansion of Narragansett Elementary School (which is our largest site) by constructing "Phase I" (Blue part below) of the modular expansion plan during the course of the 2019-20 School Year.
3.  Complete "Phase I" (Blue) of the modular expansion by Spring of 2020.
4.  Spring/Summer of 2020 prepare parents and families for a K-5 attendance zone shift which will occur in order to open the 2020-21 school year.
5.  In Fall of 2020 shift K-5 attendance zones to allow for "room to grow" at Great Falls and Village Elementary Schools while shifting additional growth towards Narragansett Elementary School.  This will in effect create three K-5 schools of approximately the same size.
6.  By 2023-24 we may need to consider adding either all or parts of Phase II (Green) in order to address continued growth.  If we need to, we may at that point bond an additional modular expansion at a relatively similar cost to the first phase. The orange below only illustrates that if our enrollment projections are higher than anticipated, we could simply continue to add on at relatively small costs.
7.  By 2026 we need to have figured out what to do at GHS as it is in this year that growth will reach almost 900 students.
8.  Address GHS building needs by 2026 at a local cost of ????
9.  By 2028-29 be prepared for MDOE supported capital expansion at the K-5 level.

K-5 Attendance Zone Changes Proposed for 2020-21

As you have probably noticed, the proposal for this much needed modular expansion project comes with one other important piece of information.  A change to our current attendance zones for 2020-2021.  I am sure I can hear the collective groan (or possible scream) from parents from here and for that I truly do apologize.  NO ONE enjoys shifting attendance zones...however from time to time it is a necessity and we have reached that time in Gorham's growth that we must consider this.

The reason is that in order to make this a true 10-15 year "fix" for our growth issues, we not only need to expand at Narragansett and shift growth in that direction, but we need to provide some room to grow at the other two schools as well (that are both full).  Since both schools are currently full, the only way to do that is to shift attendance zones.

Now, we all knew this was coming (at least those parents of K-5 students who followed with intent our earlier discussions from 2 years ago regarding the possibility of changing our elementary school configurations).  Our attendance zones have not been adjusted since we originally opened Great Falls Elementary School and with the growth that has occurred, well it clearly hasn't been "evenly spread" across all three attendance zones.

We need to shift our zones so that we can provide more space at Great Falls and Village to continue to grow while also shifting the majority of continued projected growth towards Narragansett.  Our transportation Director (who by the way was the mastermind behind the last attendance zone work that didn't have to change for 10 years - which is incredible) has been hard at work trying to figure out where our new lines should go to create the spaces we need at Great Falls and Village while also encompassing the "hot spots" where we think growth will be at the highest in the future. 

Once the referendum is passed, we will work to get this information to parents as quickly as possible during the 2019-20 school year and communicate that effectively to parents throughout that year so that we are ready to make the shift for the 2020-21 school year, and hopefully NOT have to do it again for another 10 years!

A Frequently Asked Question or Two

This is already a long blog post (once again sorry)... but I did want to address at least one or two of the most frequently asked questions I get from parents and community members. 

Question #1- Why modulars?  Why can't we take that same (or likely a little more $) and sink it into an already existing building like the Little Falls Recreation Center and update that instead? 

Answer #1 - A valid question for sure as it seems that would make at least some sense...but when you lift up the layers of the onion a little more, you begin to see why it would actually be more costly to go this route.

Let's take Little Falls as an example (as its the one I hear the most).  There are currently 6 viable classroom spaces at Little Falls with some other auxiliary spaces.  So the first problem is space.  With 6 classrooms, you can fit approximately 120 students (avg. of 20 per classroom).  A single grade in Gorham right now has an average population of 215 students at the K-5 level.  That means you couldn't fit a whole grade into the school.  This means that you would have to have part of a grade there and the rest of it spread out across the other 3 schools.  Although this would be a bit of a nightmare to figure out with attendance zones, we could likely overcome that hurdle, but by doing so we are creating other consequences such as significantly increasing staffing costs. 

We would now need to split grades across another building.  This would force us to add staffing for allied arts such as Art, Music, PE, and for other support services important to our programs such as for PT, OT, Speech, Social Workers, etc.  We would need an additional administrator, school secretary, another school nurse, and these are just the quick things I can think of off the top of my head.  There would be increased costs for travel for these positions as one small school would not warrant full-time employees in these areas.  Then we would also have to add a cafeteria with cafeteria workers as we would be required to serve both breakfast and lunch to these students.  Then in order to make this work, we'd need to increase more bus routes, add drivers, and we would also need to clean an additional facility which would add costs for maintenance and custodial services. 

In other words, the staffing needs that would be created and would need to exist for the long term would far outweigh the initial upfront costs of the modular expansion where we wouldn't need to add as many staff (I say "as many" because with increasing populations, you will need to add staff...just wouldn't be as many as what you would do if you separate things out into another school). 

Of course, not to mention that if we were really considering Little Falls, we would also displace many senior-oriented programs that are very vested in that building, which is no one's intention.

Question #2:  What kind of modulars are we talking here?  Are these the same things we had 10 years ago?

Answer #2:  NO.  The modulars we are proposing will be connected to the school and to each other.  They will be secure facilities.  They will have access to bathrooms, technology, phones, etc.  All life safety codes such as sprinklers, etc. will be met.  Students will not have to go outside to get to them.  They will truly be connected and built in such a way as to last 10-15 years where previous modulars were put in place for 2-3 year short term fixes.  I am actually making a video to demonstrate this with Georgia at GOCAT and will send the link out as soon as it is completed.

Question #3:  What are the implications if we DO NOT approve this referendum?

Answer #3:  Our student populations are increasing and we are officially out of room at our existing K-5 schools as of next year (2019-20).  If we don't approve of this, we will likely need to add a modular at Great Falls and one at Narragansett in 2020-21 and then keep "piece-mealing" modulars at all three schools at a much greater cost due to inefficiencies of 3 separate sites.  The likelihood is also high that we would have to increase class sizes at the K-5 level to fit more students into the same existing spaces.

Question #4:  Why now?  Can't we wait another year or two?

Answer #4:  Unfortunately, we are out of room now at the elementary schools.  We are cobbling together a few more adjustments for 2019-20, but by 2020-21 we will either have to have a plan ready or we will be increasing class sizes to accommodate student numbers. 

We have to approve the referendum now so that there is the appropriate time to do the site work and other work required to have the expansion operational by the 2020-21 school year.  You can see the timeline by CLICKING HERE.

I could keep going with Q&A but this post is already WAAAAAYYYY TOOOOO LOOOONNNGGG!  Rather than do that I would urge you to reach out to me individually with any questions you may have and I'd be more than happy to answer them.  My email is