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Money For Maintenance

Dallas seeking bond OK for school repairs

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Dallas School District maintenance worker Gordon Gentry points out deficiencies in an aging water heater.

DALLAS -- Eighty years is a long life for a boiler. Too long, says Gordon Gentry, a maintenance employee for the Dallas School District.

Gauges, switches and other parts of the octogenarian boiler have been replaced, but the main mass of metal has been heating the Morrison Campus/school district office building since the school was built.

Gentry said it's only a matter of time before the boiler quits. And with eight decades already past, the clock is ticking fast.

"That boiler has had four lifetimes," Gentry said.

Dallas school officials say there is a myriad of other items -- roofs, parking lots and cracking asbestos floor tiles -- well past their prime throughout district properties.

The district is asking voters to pass a $8.6 million bond on Tuesday, Nov. 3, to pay for the items on its lengthy repair and maintenance priority list.

While the maintenance crew strives to keep up with routine fixes -- such as replacing old windows or worn siding -- the repairs on the bond list are too big for its limited manpower and resources.

In a few cases, the difficulty of the repair isn't too much, but finding the parts needed to do it is near impossible.

Instead of working automatically, LaCreole Middle School's ancient water heater has to be woken up each day. On the afternoon of Oct. 6, Gentry paused by the tired-looking machine and gave the thermostat a light flick. The decrepit old thing rumbled to life.

"That's the only way it works," Gentry said. "If that stops working, we have no hot water."

He said when he called the manufacturer about finding a thermostat to fit the heater, the response was "There's still one of those in service?"

Without the bond, the money for fixes would have to come out of the general fund, Dallas School District Superintendent Christy Perry said.

With 85 percent of the general fund going to personnel, taking money out of the fund would affect students.

In light of recent budget cuts, establishing a rainy day fund big enough for deferred maintenance isn't feasible without taking away from educational resources.

"You do everything you can to protect classrooms," Perry said. "We only have one shot with these kids."

The storm-driven roof failure at Lyle Elementary School in early June was covered by insurance, but Perry said the likelihood of insurers paying for subsequent building and equipment failures gets smaller as time goes on without repairs being done.

Currently, the maintenance staff only has the resources to rejuvenate building features Gentry said should be replaced entirely.

The solution to LaCreole's leaky roof so far has been patching. Pieces of new roofing material outlined with fresh sealing are evidence of the maintenance crew's battle to keep up with leaks. Despite efforts, the beginning of more problems pop up constantly. The protective shell is literally bubbling, stressing the seams until they split.

The only blemish-free spot is the gym roof.

"The whole thing needs to be peeled off and put on new," Gentry said.

Oakdale Heights' parking lot is in similar condition and needs to be repaved. The roof on the high school stadium needs to be replaced. And while boilers in other buildings aren't 80 years old, officials say they are still long overdue for a change.

And the list goes on.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed Friday, Oct. 16, for the Nov. 3 vote-by-mail election. The only issue facing local voters is the Dallas School District maintenance bond.

A federal stimulus funded program allowed the district to receive interest-free bonds if the measure passes. That gives the district another $1.3 million to complete repairs. With a list totaling $8.6 million in projects and about $387,000 in legal, bonding and construction fees, Perry said every penny is needed.

The bond wouldn't increase the amount of property taxes already going to schools -- about $1.67 per $1,000 of assessed value on properties -- but it will extend the number of years taxpayers will be shelling out the money by about seven years.

However, if the district can have work done at a cheaper cost, property owners would be on the hook for less.

Perry said keeping costs under control is one of the responsibilities of a citizens' committee that will be formed to oversee the bond repairs and keep the process open to public scrutiny.

"Its job is overseeing that what we do is what we told the public we were going to do," she said.

District officials will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, at Dallas High's Bollman Auditorium to answer questions about the bond.

For more information about repairs and the bond, visit www.dallas.k12.or.us or call 503-623-5594.

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