By John Bernhardt

ACS photo thumbnailThere have been many highlights during my time at Andes Central School. Our District has made great strides in providing learning tools for our students. We have added pre-kindergarten for four year olds, reinvigorated our Travel Club providing our students with multiple opportunities to learn about the world in locations outside of Andes, brought back our Drama Club, started a radio station, filmed and produced a feature documentary movie, continued our tradition of providing a great music program, made gradual gains on our testing results, and, of course, earned our first ever appearance of our Boy’s Basketball team in the Delaware County Championship game.

Although we have had many successes, our challenges continue to grow in one area, the renovation and upgrading of our facility. Common sense tells us that to maximize the life cycle of a facility, renovations and updates must occur on a regular basis. Like a home or business, as time evolves, a school’s infrastructure needs attention. Buildings built in the early years of the 20th century served different purposes than exist at the start of the new millennium. Heating systems, ventilation, electrical service, plumbing fixtures, the condition of windows, the status of roofs, etc. must all be periodically upgraded if a facility is to stand up to the test of time.

For whatever reason, there has never been a major renovation of our school. The windows and plumbing fixtures are the originals. The school moved from burning coal to burning oil in the 1960’s, so oil boilers were installed at that time. Our ventilation system has been dysfunctional for decades. As the District has added technology, we have made gradual upgrades to our electrical capacity.

Adding to our frustration has been the unusually inflated bids for construction costs to address capital projects approved by District voters. For the most part, those projects have addressed our response to a judgment made against the School District for a Civil Rights claim that Andes did not provide an equal program for mobility-impaired students. We have faced continual roadblocks in attempting to satisfy that judgment.

Here’s where we stand. In October of 2006, District voters approved a $976,734 capital project to provide a modular handicapped-accessible locker room with a public handicapped-accessible bathroom that would be located directly behind the gymnasium. The project also included modifications of the downstairs computer laboratory and the installation of covered walkways connecting the northern entrance/exit with the new facility.

New state aid for renovation projects in public schools (EXCEL aid) actually slowed our forward progress. With larger Districts awarded large chunks of new aid, renovation projects of a much larger scope and scale blossomed. Small projects like ours at Andes moved to the bottom of the pile. Architectural designs for the project were submitted for approval to the State Education Department shortly after the start of the new year. After waiting four month for a State Education review, they kicked the plans back to the architects for revisions.

After approving the installation of a vertical lift at the bottom of the stairwell off the southern end of the gymnasium in two projects, the State turned the tables and refused to accept the same proposal this time around. To install a lift there now, we would also need to install smoke walls around the three walls of the stage area. Adding those walls would explode the budget of the project. The State is recommending the use of a portable lift to transport a wheel-chair bound person from the gymnasium floor to the stage. That will be included in our project modifications.

In addition, the plans from the modular engineers needed to be revised to include a second exit in each of the locker rooms and some changes in the materials used in constructing the walls of the locker facility.

Most distressing was State Education’s decision to delay construction to late spring of 2008. Construction of the proposed project compromises two of the four entrance/exits on the first floor of the building. For that reason, the Education Department does not want to start the project until students have finished school in June.

The revised plans from the modular engineers have been submitted to the architects and are being reviewed. Those plans will be resubmitted to the State soon. Once received the plans will be placed on the fast track for possible approval. After approval, we plan on petitioning the State to see if construction schedules could be crafted that would allow the addition to be installed with three of the four exits/entranceways open throughout the construction period.

District voters also approved $100,000 to install a new roof and windows at the bus garage. Bids on the roof portion of that project surpassed the allocated amount. The District put the project out for bid a second time after reducing the scope of work to include only the installation of the new roof and including cost-saving engineering suggestions. One bid was received under the approved amount. We are hoping to replace the roof sometime this fall.

The Board of Education has attempted to address infrastructure needs by asking voters to approve annual capital projects small in scope and paid for by using money from our general reserve funds. For safety reasons, we are exploring a project that will replace our antiquated sound system with a modern unit. In addition, the project could target the replacement of the eaves in the front and back of the main building. A voting date has not yet been determined. We will keep you posted.

In future years, the Board continues to allocate resources for use in small projects that target plumbing and electrical needs. At some point in the future, long-term planning must address window replacement and ventilation. Those renovations are on a larger scale that cannot be covered with reserve funds and would need to be bonded.

Andes Central School has a long and proud tradition as a focal point in our community. As our school and community looks to the future, our vision must include basic infrastructure renovations of our school.  ~