Pressured for time, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) board begrudgingly voted four to one to pay $126,000 to replace the condemned bleachers at the high school in time for commencement.
Todd Poer, director of facilities had actually asked for the board to approve spending $530,000 to fix the bleachers plus a long list of leaky roofs, malfunctioning doors, a deteriorating track, unpainted walls, balky buses and faltering heating and air conditioning units. He advocated spending half of the money from the sale of Frontier Elementary on the long-deferred building projects.
This year’s budget includes just $50,000 for any emergencies, said Kathie Manning, district business manager.
However, board members expressed their loathing of dipping into the Frontier funds before school staff and the community had created some sort of plan to relieve overcrowding at Payson Elementary School.
“If we use $530,000 (out of the sale of Frontier), that leaves $730,000 ... to get an architect ... and build on to PES,” said Shirley Dye, board member.
“So basically, (if you vote for this) you are taking (building new classrooms) off the table,” said Manning.
“What are you going to do about capacity?” asked Barbara Underwood, board president. “If you’re going to make that decision, there won’t be enough.”
But Payson High School principal Brian Mabb said the bleachers connect the schools and the community through a host of school and community events like football games, track, soccer and commencement.
“In talking to individuals, they say investing in something that is the face for the district is important for a lot of people,” he said.
Board member Rory Huff said it seems the school district is out in a blizzard, cold and starving and can either get clothes or buy food. Either decision is critical, but resources only allow for one choice.
The state Legislature has in the past two years cut by 80 percent funding for capital improvements and facilities management, said Manning.
She said she hopes that changes this year, but she is not sure.
Slashing building funds puts districts in tough situations like the one facing PUSD, even though in 2006 district voters approved a $34 million bond. The PUSD Web site says that by 2009, the bond money had overhauled Julia Randall Elementary School and Rim Country Middle School.
But now everything needs upkeep.
Poer said he has come to the board three times this year with a facilities maintenance plan already seven years behind schedule.
“If this district were my house and I needed a new roof or I needed to add on rooms, I would replace the roof,” said Poer.
He reminded the board that shortly after he arrived, the front of a building collapsed due to lack of maintenance. He created a plan, but the district has not funded it, a fact Underwood admitted.
“You have done this priority list, but the dollars have not followed this list,” she said. “As Rory said, we do need to maintain this; we need to make this a priority, but I feel we have done a disservice.”
Poer clearly expressed his frustration at the constant delay of essential maintenance projects.
“If you hire me to be the facilities director you need to give me support,” he said. “Since the bond vote, I’ve been asked to create a ... plan because you wanted to make sure that I would be able to have a plan in place to protect our investment ... adhering to a plan requires us to be responsible about the future of the Payson Unified School District.”
The $126,000 the board approved will likely come from the sale of Frontier, said Manning. However, she cautioned that those funds are earmarked for building new facilities and the bleachers might not qualify.
Poer said he must put in an order on the bleachers by Friday, Dec. 13 or they will not be ready in time for commencement.