St. Paul, MN, School District Gets an Average Grade for its Facilities

Feb. 27, 2009

St. Paul school buildings are in average shape in terms of structural soundness and ability to support the district's educational goals, a consultant told school board members on Tuesday.

The report, the result of a months-long study of the district’s 7.3 million square feet of space, is intended to provide a foundation of data for district leaders as they decide how to downsize space and realign programs in coming years in response to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen called it “a really big piece of the puzzle for giving us big guidance for years to come.”

But, the findings will not be the only factors considered. 

“This is not to be considered a list for closure, or changing buildings, or anything,” she says.

The summary, presented by Meg Parsons of Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group, found that the cost to replace the district’s facilities would be $2.1 billion. It would take $317 million to repair the facilities’ deficiencies.

That yields an average “facility condition index” – a measure of overall condition that divides repair cost by replacement cost – of 15.1 percent.

That means facilities are “in better-than-average condition for a large urban district,” the report concludes. The report listed index figures for other districts ranging from 19 percent in Houston to 80 percent in Cleveland.

“The bottom line is that we’re in good shape,” says Carstarphen.          

Within the district, the facilities in the worst shape are the Riverside adult-education facility at 1845 Sheridan, the Central High School service station at 1157 Selby and Wheelock early-education facility at 1521 Edgerton St. They have facility condition indexes in the 30s, and are rated in “poor” condition. 

No district facilities are rated as requiring total replacement.

Overall, St. Paul has too much space for its student population. 

Depending on whether you count how the buildings are currently being used, or simply the raw space, the district has from 750 to 4,000 fewer students than it could accommodate.

Capacity varies significantly by building.

At the high school level, the study found every building except Humboldt and Arlington is over capacity by 200 to 500 students. That is expected to even out as high school enrollment declines in the coming years.

Murray and Washington are the only middle schools with more students than capacity. At the elementary level, the most overcrowded are Jackson, Adams, and Crossroads.

The facility data will inform the district’s capital bonding process for 2009-10, says Chief Operations Officer Hitesh Haria, as well as the district’s large-scale system change recommendations, most of which are expected in 2010-11.

Each year, St. Paul Public Schools has about $30 million available for capital bonding projects, deferred maintenance, and health and safety improvements, Haria says. Addressing the two most serious categories of deficiencies identified in the report would cost about $55 million.

The cost of the study was $730,000, plus $18,000 for the software to keep the information updated, plus $7,300 per year. Those costs are being paid out of the capital budget, not from general operating dollars, Haria says.

The new capacity calculations for each building replace previous estimates the district had been using that were based on principals’ reports from 2001. 

Other findings from the study include:

  • Of the $317 million in identified deficiencies, about one-third is related to educational adequacy and two-thirds is structural. In addition to the $317 million, over the next 5 years, the district will need $60 million for life-cycle improvements.
  • There are 79 permanent buildings in the district. About half were built between 1953 and 1982. Nine (9) percent were built in the past 25 years.
  • 17,250 square feet of space – less than 1 percent of the district’s total square footage – is in portable classroom buildings.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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