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BOE facilities panel tackles present, future building needs

December 11, 2006

Editor's note: Once a month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff will use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written by Jacqueline Fischer, who completed her tenure on the board last week. Before leaving office, she served as vice president of the board and chaired the facilities committee.




About five years ago, the members of the Washington County Board of Education decided to adopt a committee form of operation. The decision was made in order to expedite the work of the board members who spent many hours in work sessions studying items such as textbook recommendations, construction documents, recruitment practices, quarterly budget adjustments and policy changes.

Five committees were created - curriculum and instruction, policy review and development, facilities, human resources and finance. These three-member committees make recommendations to the full board after studying reports, bids and issues. This column will discuss the work of the facilities committee, which has become quite active as a result of the unprecedented growth in the county.

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The facilities committee has changed in the last year from meeting for about an hour once a month to meeting for two to three hours twice a month. With the need for new schools and additions to schools, the committee now is spending considerable time reviewing educational specifications, feasibility studies, design drawings, construction documents and bid recommendations as it monitors current projects.

Legal issues involving right of way, easements, etc., as well as real estate needs, also are reviewed by the committee. This need for new schools also has inspired committee members to study green construction to find ways to make school buildings not only energy-efficient, but environmentally sound.

Maintenance of the existing facilities is another objective for the facilities committee. The school system manages more than 3.2 million square feet of buildings and 1,087 acres of land. One hundred and eighty custodians with collective salaries of $5.8 million maintain these facilities. The board expended $15 million this year to improve and repair its facilities. Three documents map the way for the facilities department - the Facilities Master Plan, the Comprehensive Maintenance Plan Program and the Capital Improvement Program. The facilities committee reviews these plans and makes recommendations for their adoption to the full board.

A new area of concern for this committee is the funding of school construction through agreements with developers to address the consequences of residential development in the county. Such agreements are commonly referred to as mitigation agreements. At the request of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, the board is in the process of creating a policy that would establish a standard for adequacy based on state- and local-rated capacity and would recommend a variety of methods developers can pursue to resolve capacity issues. If such a policy is adopted, the facilities committee would review proposed mitigation plans submitted by developers before they move to the full board for approval. Approved plans then would move to the County Commissioners, who have the ultimate decision to adopt, amend or reject.

Each board member commonly serves on two committees. Membership changes from year to year to reflect member interests, as well as to educate members on all aspects of board governance. Clearly, service on the facilities committee is both dynamic and challenging.

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