In the final hours of the 2011 Nevada Legislative session, Assembly Bill 376 was passed, which allowed WCSD to reduce its debt reserves to free up funding for capital improvement projects. According to Mikalee Byerman, WCSD capital projects spokesperson, the Nevada Revised Statutes were revised to allow school districts to reduce debt reserves from 100 percent of annual principal and interest payments to 25 percent.
“That freed up $75 million in bonding capacity,” Byerman said.
Those bond sale funds, along with additional unused funds totaling $92 million, will be used to fund a “School Works” program that will encompass 337 projects district-wide and employ nearly 1,000 construction workers. The program was approved last week by the WCSD board of trustees and allocates funding for revitalization and renewal projects, including ADA, safety, security and technology upgrades at all but seven schools in the district, which were recently upgraded.
The School Works jobs bill encouraged district officials to identify projects that could be started quickly to help bolster the economy.
“This bill was about job creation,” Byerman said, adding that district officials were challenged to figure out ways to give the local economy a shot in the arm. “This will create 750 to 1,000 jobs in the ailing construction industry.”
In Sparks, all schools except Agnes Risley Elementary School will benefit from improvement projects between now and the summer of 2013.
“The only Sparks school not being touched is Risley,” Byerman said, because the school has already been revitalized.
According to a press release, the largest portion of School Works funding, $30 million, will be used to revitalize nine elementary schools that are on average 56 years old. Four of those elementary schools are in Sparks, Byerman said, including Drake, Greenbrae, Mitchell and Kate Smith.
“Those schools will see their classroom learning environments completely refurbished with new furniture, paint, cubbies, flooring and tackable wall surfaces,” a press release states.
The schools also will receive improved technology, including interactive white boards and enhanced safety and security features such as energy-efficient windows with internal blinds, new locks, perimeter fencing and single point of entry features, the release states.
“Our students and teachers are going to feel more comfortable in their surroundings,” said Mark Stanton, chief capital projects officer for the WCSD. “Research suggests thermal, acoustical and visual comfort are essential components of improved student performance.”
Bond funds come from a capital projects account, which is money raised from voter-approved bond measures. The funding cannot be used to pay teacher salaries or offset general fund shortfalls, Stanton said, but must be used specifically for capital projects.
After a vote by district trustees Tuesday, Byerman said capital projects will begin as soon as possible. The planning, design and architecture phase will begin within a few weeks, with construction starting in upcoming months. The district has chosen eight architectural firms it can use for its projects.
AB 376 was sponsored by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who said she supported the legislation because she believed it was a way to improve the schools while putting Nevadans back to work.
“This is a great example of legislative action that is providing real, tangible results to improve our schools and to help put Nevadans back to work,” Smith told WCSD officials. “This legislation, coupled with the jobs bills we passed to encourage the hiring of Nevada workers, will help us meet both of those goals.”