Modesto schools in need of $1 billion in repairs, upgrades

Fred C. Beyer High School recently had its roof and heating and air-conditioning system redone, but it still needs millions more in repairs, a school district report says.
Fred C. Beyer High School recently had its roof and heating and air-conditioning system redone, but it still needs millions more in repairs, a school district report says.

A detailed look at bringing every campus up to grade lays out roughly $1 billion in fixes and improvements recommended for Modesto City Schools sites.

“These are big numbers, but not unusual for a district of our size,” said Becky Meredith, senior director of business services. The cost of repairs and improvements totals $746 million, which with costs such as permits and management fees would take $1 billion to fund, she said.

The exhaustive report presented to trustees breaks down deficiencies of all 34 schools, two complexes largely used for administration and the district corporation yard. Each school’s needs are also assessed on a scale of 1 to 5, from minor fixes to full replacement.

“We did some modernizing, and I was surprised they have a lot more to do. But I understand things age quickly,” said board member Cindy Marks, the only trustee to comment on the report.

Prioritizing needs will be discussed at public forums and staff meetings over the coming months, with final approval by trustees, Chief Business Official Julie Betschart told the board.

Even with deep reserves, the district cannot afford to do it all. The state traditionally helps districts with facilities costs, but state borrowing for schools is on hold.

The lengthy list includes new water systems, electrical work and whole building replacements at some campuses, but much of the overall cost overall appears to stem from the sheer volume of relatively inexpensive fixes like cracked paint, uneven walkways and rusting gutters.

The study proposes replacing only portables in use since 1972 or earlier. Many of the district’s older campuses need new multipurpose rooms, and the board already has set aside $11.7 million to replace deteriorating cafeterias and classrooms at two of its oldest elementary schools, Burbank and Wilson.

By design, the 2-inch-thick report looks only at repairing what exists now. It gives no suggestions for alternatives to meet changed use, collaborative learning environments or adapting to a digital future.

For example, Elliott Alternative Education Center is a 1950 elementary campus now used for a continuation high school. Elliott serves about 570 teens with mostly portable buildings, a remodeled classroom as its cafeteria and no exercise facilities except a few basketball hoops. The report notes the 65-year-old utility mains need replacement and its fire alarm is out of date, but makes no mention of the lack of standard high school facilities.

It also does not address the advisability of bringing the existing campus up to snuff for $20.8 million, not including permits and fees, compared to building all new. A rough online gauge of school building costs using union labor, by builder RS Means, put the replacement cost for Elliott’s 48,068 square feet of high school classroom space at $8.2 million. Major revisions involve a lengthy state approval process.

The most expensive fixes are recommended for the district’s large high schools: $56 million for Modesto High, $44 million for Downey and $36 million for Davis. Johansen High is listed as needing $45 million in repairs, but that does not appear to factor in the current makeover of its fire-ruined B Building. Even the newest campuses, Gregori and Enochs, require $7.4 million each in refurbishment.

The most expensive renovation list is for Beyer High, $68 million, even though the north Modesto campus recently had its roof and heating and air-conditioning system redone. More than $30 million is suggested for interior finishes, doors and millwork. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical makeovers would cost $14 million more.

All four of Modesto’s junior highs need $18 million or more in repairs and upgrades.

The highest-need elementary school in the report is Fairview in west Modesto, with $22.5 million in listed fixes. All of the highest price tags in the elementary group were on schools in lower-income areas of Modesto, which also are the most crowded campuses.

Franklin, Kirschen, Martone and Marshall elementary schools all have about $20 million to $22 million in facilities needs, according to the report.

The district’s four nonschool sites need $42.8 million in construction help, the report says. Those are the old Pearson campus, the 1930s-era district office with its cluster of portables, the Reno Avenue complex and the corporation yard.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin