RACINE — The Racine Unified School District will likely close some of its school buildings after weighing information from a new, comprehensive long-range facilities master plan.
“The reality is that some of these buildings may have to go and we may have to start consolidating programs,” said Superintendent Eric Gallien.
Unified administrators intend to bring recommendations to the School Board in November on buildings to close, potential boundary changes, implementation plans and costs.
This is the first time the district has developed such an in-depth comprehensive plan in at least the past 20 years. The plan includes a facility condition index for each school building, as well as the educational adequacy of those buildings, utilization of each building and demographic trends.
FCI weighs necessary deferred maintenance of a building against its estimated replacement value. It’s generally accepted that a building with an FCI of 60% or more isn’t worth further investment. There are nine Unified buildings with an FCI of 58% or more and 15 with an FCI of 29% or lower, meaning they’re in good or relatively good condition.
Some of the schools with the highest FCI, unsurprisingly, are among Unified’s oldest, including Janes Elementary built in 1857, with an FCI of 64%, and Red Apple built in 1874, with an FCI of 60%.
However, it is noteworthy that the school with the highest FCI of 67% is North Park, built in 1952. One of the district’s oldest schools, Julian Thomas — built in 1857 with an addition in 2000 — had the fourth-lowest FCI at 6%.
The district is still vetting the FCI of its buildings, which was completed by outside contractor Nexus Solutions, a facilities planning company with offices in Madison and Milwaukee. The information was delivered to the office of Unified’s Chief Operating Officer Shannon Gordon last week. Gordon said getting external assistance when assessing the condition of district buildings was important so that School Board members and the community know the results are unbiased.
Gallien told The Journal Times on Monday that it is too early to begin thinking about asking the voters, via referendum, to raise the district’s state-imposed revenue limit to fund any decisions sparked by the new facilities plan.
“I think it’s fair to say whether or not the referendum conversation happens, we have more needs than we have capacity to address,” Gordon said. “We know that we don’t have a budget that would support either continuing to maintain these 1857 buildings or quite frankly some of them from the 1950s either.”
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Gordon said that many of the schools weren’t designed for modern educational needs. In measuring educational adequacy, the district looked at how well a building worked to deliver current and planned curricula. Moving forward, Gordon said spaces should be flexible so the district can make changes with continual transformation of educational needs.
“It’s not going to surprise folks to see in particular in the Academies of Racine, that some of our very old buildings don’t lend themselves to some of the very modern instruction that’s being asked of our teachers for our students,” Gordon said.
The Academies of Racine are the new career-development programs in place at the district’s main high schools.
Gordon added that it’s also important for Unified to continue its partnerships with businesses for things like internships, as it doesn’t make sense for the district to build specialized manufacturing spaces that would have to be continually updated to stay current.
The buildings determined, “not suitable for reinvestment” when it comes to educational adequacy were North Park Elementary, Giese Elementary, Janes Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary and Red Apple elementary. Bull Early Education Center — formerly Bull Fine Arts — was on that list as well, but Gordon said upgrades currently underway at that building would likely change its status.
In addition to FCI and educational adequacy, the master plan also includes information about demographics and building utilization.
“We have excess capacity in places we don’t need it and we lack capacity where we do need it,” Gordon said.
Park High School had 58% utilization last year, with an enrollment of 1,357 and a capacity of 2,327. Red Apple Elementary was 57% utilized with an enrollment of 411 and a capacity of 726. In contrast, Gifford K-8 had a utilization of 90% with enrollment of 1,634 and a capacity for 1,812. Olympia Brown also had a utilization of 90% with enrollment at 470 and a capacity of 524.
Gordon said ideally utilization would be 70 to 90% at each school. Capping it at 90% allows space for a “bubble grade” or a year with an unusually large student population.
The School Board had previously asked Gordon to create the facilities master plan looking 30 years out, and she did, but cautioned that past 10 years in the future, most predictions are no longer data-driven and are mostly guesswork.
Gordon presented the plan to the School Board Monday night, but none of the members had questions. School Board member Jane Barbian explained that this was because board members had met with Gordon in pairs prior to Monday’s meeting to go over the new facilities master plan.