As I was leaving the community meeting on Monday, someone mentioned "That's a lot of sacred cows they are shooting in there." I think his observation was very fitting! As I was thinking on his comment through the night this video came to mind:
It's a fun video to watch but as I pointed out on my facebook share, these are expensive pets, so expensive the farmer had to start a foundation to afford them. In some ways our school buildings in question are the expensive pets of the school district. They cost a lot just in general maintenance and are being way underutilized in capacity.
Pine Butte: current population 254 ideal capacity 336 current percent capacity 76%
Frank Brattin MS: current population 145 ideal capacity 315 current percent capacity 46%
Colstrip HS: current population 200 ideal capacity 635 current percent capacity 31%
Population number are pretty close but may not be exact.
These ideal capacity numbers use an average of the low/high capacity range given Monday. If we shift to max capacity, the percentages are 61%, 35% and 28%. Any way you slice it you can see that these buildings are our community's expensive pets, sacred cows if you must. This also doesn't address Isabel Bills Community Learning Center whose official student capacity is 0% but continues to be maintained. There is a little rental income, but clearly businesses have struggled at that location.
Herein lies the problem, under using these building is not an efficient way to spend school district dollars at all. That building is being cleaned, heated, cooled, and lit the same as if it were at 100% capacity. It still needs upkeep the same. You can't replace only 46% of a roof because you only have 46% currently being used.
The assessment Monday was that Isabel Bills and Frank Brattin would cost the district 4.5 million dollars in utility cost and maintenance over the next 15 years. 4.5 million dollars to serve our students 0% and 31% respectively. I contend that cost is actually low because it doesn't take into account the personnel that travels between campuses. Maintenance staff are making a minimum of 4 trips a day between campuses; at 7 minutes each way (a number I know very well, living a block away from Pine Butte) that's a minimum of 30 minutes of completely unproductive time each day, likely more. The nurse travels, some of the teachers travel, even the school lunches "travel". Each and every one of these trips is a cost in lost productivity that should be considered. There's also the physical resource costs that should be considered. The high school recently had to replace an expensive piece of equipment in the industrial arts lab. The middle school has this same piece of equipment but since it's at a different location it's not available for the high school students. Eliminating the cost of duplicate physical resources between the two campuses would be another area of savings.
One might think I am advocating the massive, do it all approach. I'm not... necessarily. I have my thoughts and opinions about all the options no doubt, but what I really want to see is people letting go of their pet cow to at least acknowledge and consider these issues. If the community members really make an educated decision to keep that pet cow, that's OK. They just need to understand and be OK with the cost to feed it. They need to understand that feeding and caring for that cow is going to have an effect on how they manage the rest of the herd.
There were a number of people at Monday's meeting who had been deeply involved in the design and building of the schools 30 years ago, and understandably have an emotional attachment. There were a number of people who attended these schools as youth and have a deep emotional attachment. It's understandable. I pointed out to our sacred cow observer that if I had a 30 year old house, I would definitely be itching for some updates. Things are different these days. A lot of 30 year old houses don't even have a master bathroom, not to mention their tiny little kitchens. It would be hard to find someone who wouldn't agree it could use a remodel. It's OK to love your house and at the same time to say, "if I had this to do over again I would do x, y, and z." It's OK to love the building you attended or work in, but to also say "gee it would be nice to have x, y, or z."
These facility meetings are a chance to collectively say, "Has anything changed in 30 years? Are we serving our students the best way we can? Are the buildings as they are the best way to use tax payer dollars?" Thirty years ago it was impractical at best to travel to even a half dozen schools to see design layouts and study the best learning environments. Most people rely on their own personal experiences, which is typically limited at least regionally. We live in an age now where we can virtually tour schools and learning environments across the entire globe! Why not open our minds to some of the ideas and concepts that are out there. Take the good and twist and mold it to fit what we want for our students in Colstrip, whether that's lower impact remodeling projects or bigger building additions. That is what this planning is all about!
If you have ideas, pictures or experiences you would like to share, please comment!