January 30, 2018
Dear Members of the Upper Dublin Community:
At one time or another, every child has heard the sage advice, “Do your homework.” As members of the School District of Upper Dublin Board of Directors, we are committed to doing our homework – especially when it comes to decisions that must balance the present and future needs of students and taxpayers. We must always make our decisions keeping in mind the long-term implications.
On Monday, January 29, we listened carefully as three well respected architects shared with us their conceptual plans for the creation of a new Sandy Run Middle School. This presentation was the next logical step in a comprehensive review process which commenced in 2013 with the original Sandy Run Middle School Grade Realignment Task Force. In June 2017, we brought together community members, township officials, school board members and administrators to form the SRMS Project Review Committee to evaluate options for facilities improvements.
With the presentations now completed, our School Board has much work to do as we evaluate the pros and cons of the presented plans and, of course, their costs. Homework assignments often come with questions, and with a community as involved and committed as ours, it should come as no surprise that residents have come forward with many questions.
Allow us to answer the questions that we have most frequently heard:
Why are you considering rebuilding SRMS now? Why not just renovate it?
In 2006, the District-Wide Facilities Task Force concluded that “SRMS ranks closely behind the High School in terms of having the most serious facility needs.” By District calculations, SRMS needs more than $8 million in pressing renovations, including: replacing the roof, installing new boilers, and addressing accessibility issues required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the current building is not properly structured to support the needs of our students and our staff. Applying millions of dollars in “bandage solutions” to an outdated school is not forward-thinking nor financially prudent. The SRMS Project Review Committee concluded that the District should create a long-range facilities plan and build a new school at the current SRMS site. The School Board concurred with the Committee’s findings and has proceeded accordingly.
Are taxpayers going to be subjected to high tax increases because of the new school?
No, although we do anticipate having small tax increases due to other operating costs. As Board members, we are part of the Upper Dublin community and we have heard the concerns of community members about tax increases. Because of those concerns and other financial constraints, we believed that it was not the right time to undertake this project until now. An analysis by the District’s financial advisors shows that, as a result of a one-time commercial real estate transaction and proactive fund balance decisions made by the District (which have included transferring general funds into a capital projects fund), most, if not all, of the money needed to pay the additional debt service is already set aside. Based on current projections, new real estate development in the township will very likely not require a tax increase to build the new school. Without such new real estate development, the SRMS project could be undertaken with a tax increase of .23 mills spread over two years, which translates into an increase of $44.85 annually for the average Upper Dublin home.
Are the needs of Upper Dublin’s other school buildings being overlooked?
No. We are confident that we can move forward with the middle school project and address the needs of all of our other schools. In fact, we are in the midst of finalizing a long-range facilities plan which looks at the current conditions of each of our buildings, what each school needs to support student achievement, and how facility projects will be funded. This summer we intend to fully air condition Maple Glen Elementary School and complete the electric upgrades at Fort Washington Elementary School in preparation for air conditioning.
What are the next steps for the SRMS Project?
While the decision has been made that the middle school complex will be replaced with a new building, what that building will look like and when it will be built are still to be determined.
Our next step is to select an architect to work with us to design the new building. The design process will take approximately a year, and will involve all stakeholders in the community. The design will give us a much closer approximation of the final cost as well as the timing and phasing of the construction process.
Concurrently, the Board will continue to work on enhancing the long-term Capital Plan. The Operations Committee has already shared a ten-year facilities plan, and is working on extending it further. The Finance Committee is working on documenting the long-term funding plan for these projects. Together, these activities form the long-term Capital Plan. There are many strategic questions still to be answered, including whether we continue to work on all our elementary buildings concurrently, or shift to a building-by-building paradigm which might be better suited to future large-scale renovations, including air conditioning in the classroom areas. Another strategic question is the long-term balance between fund balance (our savings account) and our borrowing capacity. Look for these to be discussed at upcoming Operations and Finance committee meetings as we move forward.
We thank all our community members who attended the January 29th meeting, joined us for one of the community forums, or attended our board meetings and provided input. We look forward to continuing to partner with our community over the course of this project.
The Board of School Directors
School District of Upper Dublin