District releases FAQ’s

A week to go, and we have some answers. Oh, there are a couple of real attention getters on this list. I’ve numbered them to make it easier to comment. Of course, I do have a few comments. Maybe you will, too.

I’m surprised by how defensively some of the answers are written.

1 – Q: Have the buildings been allowed to deteriorate to help make the case?
A: The District has continued to invest available operating budget funds in both high schools to maintain existing roofs and equipment and to install phones and security cameras. However, annual operating budgets have been unable to fund more costly items such as replacement of mechanical systems and major remodeling projects to update the school.

2 – Q: Were buildings not properly maintained and did that lead to more extensive and expensive remodeling?
A: While the buildings, roofs, and equipment have been maintained to keep them operable and in safe condition, the limited scope of annual operating budgets has not provided for major remodeling projects or replacement of mechanical systems.

3 – Q: Why doesn’t the school district invest more money annually in maintenance and updating of buildings so they can be adapted year-by-year to changing needs rather than watching buildings deteriorate to the point where major investments are needed to renovate or replace?
A: School districts are like hospitals — they are very labor intensive. For example, more than 80 percent of annual operating budgets fund salaries and benefits for staff. The state-imposed revenue caps that have been in place for 14 years allow district revenues to increase between two and three percent, yet operating costs are going up by three to four percent each year. Despite this recurring gap, the district is able to allocate about $1-million per budget year for long range capital improvement projects. These funds are distributed across all school buildings with lower amounts going to the new elementary schools and larger amounts going to the rest of the buildings that are over thirty years old. Typical expenditures phased over multiple years are for roofing replacement, asphalt (parking lot) replacement, parts and maintenance of mechanical systems, window replacement, and lighting and ceiling replacement. Priority is typically given to projects that have a return on investment. A projected larger item yet with return on investment potential is the replacement of the boiler at Pilgrim Park Middle School.

4 – Q: What is the life expectancy of this remodeling and upgrade project … twenty years, fifty years?
A: The District is proposing a complete remodeling of both high schools in this referendum because both structures still have value yet their mechanical systems are worn out — either at or beyond life expectancy and their classrooms need updating. Given the replacement of mechanical components as needed, this is a long-term solution that should serve District needs for at least the next 40 years.

5 – Q: Why has a general contractor been selected prior to a referendum passing?
A: A general contractor has not been selected. The District is using a construction manager rather than a general contractor approach. The construction manager was selected through a competitive bidding process and will coordinate the work of sub-contractors that will also be selected through a competitive bidding process after passage of the referendum.

6 – Q: Why do we need the expense of an [left blank – I think we can assume “Owner’s Representative” here]
A: The District chose to hire an Owner’s Representative (OR) due to the size of the projects and their occurring at both buildings when school is in session. The OR will be able to devote the time needed to oversee the schematic design, design development, and construction drawings prior to competitive bidding from subcontractors. On behalf of the District, the OR will also be able to oversee construction and monitor construction budgets at both sites to ensure that the projects are completed to specifications, on time, and within budget.

7 – Q: Explain how the architect and construction manager were chosen?
A: The architect, Plunkett Raysich Architects, was chosen for the high schools as a result of the successful projects they designed and completed at Dixon and Brookfield Elementary schools in 2001. While they were chosen through a design competition and bid process at that time, the District chose, based on service and rates, to negotiate with them rather than bid out architectural services again for the high school projects. While the previous construction manager was asked to bid on the high school construction management work and did so, a new construction manager, C.G. Schmidt, was chosen through a competitive bidding process for the projects at the high schools.

8 – Q: How many district families choose private/parochial schools or home school their children?
A: For the current 2007-2008 school year, there are 2,374 students who reside in the District and attend a private/parochial school. There are also 89 home-schooled resident students.

9 – Q: Our test scores have stayed stable and even gone up despite our facilities. Why do we need to spend so much money on great big buildings?
A: The needs of the buildings are reaching a point that they may have an adverse impact on test scores and academic achievement. An example of this impact is less growth in science scores that may be attributable to deficiencies in science lab facilities. Anecdotal data from the school principals who give building tours to prospective new residents is that many families tour yet don’t register their children given the current condition of our high schools compared to other top performing school districts in the metro area. Regarding the question of school size, the current proposal has reduced the square footage of the failed referendum by over 90,000 square feet at BCHS and by 75,000 square feet at BEHS.

10 – Q: How much are my taxes going to go up for this?
A: The projected increase to the tax levy rate will average $0.51 per $1,000 of equalized (market) value. With the current average City of Brookfield home worth $320,000, it is projected to cost an average of $163 per year over the twenty-year payback of the bonds. This amount includes principal and interest.

11 – Q: Would construction costs and debt service affect expenditures for educational programs and staffing?
A: Given that the referendum would fund construction costs and debt service, there would be no negative impact of the building program on operating budget expenditures for educational programs and staffing. A positive impact would be that the construction costs that are part of the referendum would lessen the pressure on the annual operating budget to fund them.

12 – Q: What is the district’s annual cost (and total contract cost) to use the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center rather than building and owning facilities of our own?
A: The District currently pays $157,000 per year for use of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for 100 days per year. Were one auditorium built at a projected cost of $8,000,000, the principal and interest cost would be approximately $680,000 per year plus the annual costs of operating the auditorium.

13 – Q: Why can’t we do our projects without a referendum or a tax increase, like New Berlin did?
A: The New Berlin School District was able to do their projects through use of funds available, funds generated by the sale of other buildings and sites, and by borrowing funds without referendum. By borrowing without a referendum, they are required to pay back the principal and interest of this borrowing through annual operating budgets, which competes under revenue caps with funding for educational programs and staffing.

14 – Q: How much material do you have on the website when many older people don’t even have a computer?
A: Most of the referendum information that is on the District website has already been distributed in hard copy through the 8-page LINK publication to all households and the 4-page inserts to the City of Brookfield and Village of Elm Grove publications or direct mail to households located outside these municipalities. This FAQ document was not included in these publications as the questions were submitted and the responses were written after the publications were mailed. Other sources of referendum information are the District’s cable channels 13 and 96 in the City of Brookfield and Village of Elm Grove, placement of audio-visual materials about the referendum in local public libraries and each school library, and high school tours and information sessions since February and through the Saturday before the April 1 referendum.

15 – Q: Do you anticipate using the cable TV channels? Shouldn’t those opposed have equal time on the air?
A: The District is airing a journalist’s unrehearsed, spontaneous 50-minute interview with available members of the High School Facilities Next Steps Steering Team (HSST) on public access cable television channels 13 and 96 in the City of Brookfield and Village of Elm Grove. It is also airing the latest regular Board of Education meeting. Every regular Board of Education meeting includes a Citizen’s Forum at the beginning of the meeting during which anyone may speak for or against a topic not on the agenda. Throughout the regular meetings, citizens may also speak for or against topics that are on the agenda. Given that the entire regular meetings are videotaped, all citizen comments are aired.

16 – Q: I presume we’re going to get mailed newsletters and messages. How much do you intend to spend on what I consider propaganda?
A: Under state law, the school district is not allowed to expend any funds on promotional materials to advocate either a “yes” or “no” vote on a ballot question. The District has incurred the cost of printing and distributing two public information documents to all district households. One of these documents is an 8-page LINK and the other is a 4-page municipal insert. The District has also printed a two-panel Referendum Summary that is available throughout the schools and community. While these distributions and related costs are still occurring, their final costs will be a matter of public record.

17 – Q: What will be the impact on operating costs (utilities, custodial maintenance) in the remodeled buildings?
A: According to a recent study by Thelen Engineering, utility costs at the remodeled buildings will be slightly lower than current costs despite adding some square footage and air conditioning. Maintenance costs will be lower since all the equipment will be new. Custodial costs may rise slightly due to the increased square footage yet will be offset by the projected utility savings.

18 – Q: Is it safe to have students and teachers inside buildings that are being added onto and remodeled?
A: Yes, as long as the construction manager plans accordingly and is in constant communication with the school administration. The construction manager is currently working in Menomonee Falls and Greendale High Schools and there have not been any safety issues to date.

19 – Q: Specifically, what kind of disruptions will occur during construction?
A: If the referendum passes, the new spaces, which will produce very little disruption, will be constructed at both schools starting in Fall 2008. As part of a phasing plan developed by the construction manager and school administration, roughly 20-percent of each school building will be cordoned off to be worked on at any one time during the school year, which means that the rest of the space will approach 100 percent classroom occupancy during the construction period. If there are disruptive issues with construction starts in a particular area, which there may be with two major remodeling projects over a two-year period, the construction manager will adjust the phasing plans to resolve the issues. The keys to this process will be keeping safety as the number one factor and maintaining regular two-way communication so that disruptions are anticipated, addressed, and resolved. Major remodeling such as repurposing former gym areas and updating science labs will occur during the summers. There will be electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), and water shutdowns in order to tie new services into existing services. These shutdowns will be planned in advance to occur while students are not in the building, such as during school breaks and weekends.

20 – Q: How do we keep project noise, dust and commotion from unfairly affecting those students who happen to be enrolled in the years that this work would be occurring?
A: The construction manager has a phasing plan in place prior to the start of construction and then stays in constant communication with the school administration. If a construction activity is adversely affecting students, then it will be stopped and resumed at a time that it does not impact students.

21 – Q: Remodeling can produce many surprises. How much money is planned for a contingency fund?
A: The construction manager has included an 8 percent contingency amount within the budget for the remodeling of the two high schools. Further, because this is a two-year construction program occurring at a time when the cost of some construction materials is rising faster than the inflation rate, there is a 5 percent contingency for materials cost escalation.

22 – Q: Why not consolidate all functions into one large high school, including district offices and special education programs at FVS-Fairview School? Then, sell three sites of excess property–each in residential areas–use the cash, while simultaneously seeing those former district lands purchased, redeveloped and put back on the tax rolls?
A: The concept of having one high school serve the entire District was explored by the Board of Education when considering the referendum held last year and again by the High School Facilities Next Steps Steering Team (HSST) when debating models prior to recommending remodeling for the 2008 referendum. In both cases, there wasn’t a site large enough to accommodate the increased size of the school, athletic fields, and parking. Also, the community survey in 2005 showed that there was less support for one high school than for either two new high schools or two remodeled high schools. While the recent HSST identified some advantages of one District high school, they found that the two existing high schools were structurally sound and could be renewed as long term solutions for less cost than demolishing them and building one new high school.

23 – Q: The district states that gym space is less complex to build than classroom and other types of space. But, gym walls are much higher and ceiling costs must be more expensive because of the span. What are the actual costs per square foot for types of construction?
A: Per 2008 RS Means, an average gymnasium cost/SF is $135.60 as compared to an average high school cost/SF is $146.70. Neither of these costs includes site work. Even though gym walls are higher and the spans are greater, the density of interior partitions for classroom and other types of space more than offsets the premium for higher walls and greater spans for gym space.

24 – Q: In the previous referendum two full field houses were proposed for an additional $9.5 million in the second question. In this plan, one four-station gym (field house) is proposed at East and one two-station gym is proposed at Central for roughly $14 million. Why does it cost double for less?
A: The current budget for the 2008 referendum gymnasiums is $13.86 million. The 2007 referendum included $10.4 million for the base question ($99.3 million) gymnasiums, which included two new gym stations and two gym stations that were remodeled. The second question ($9.5 million) in the 2007 referendum added an additional two gym stations at each school for an additional $7.2 million. The cost for the second question included a credit for not renovating two stations and an addition for demolishing two stations. In summary, the 2008 referendum asks for $13.86 million for six new gym stations whereas the 2007 referendum asked for $17.6 million for eight new gym stations plus demolition of two gym stations. Another way to explain the differences is to take the $ 13.86 million, divide it by 1.06 (to get to 2007 dollars) and then divide it by six (number of gym stations). You end up with $2.18 million/gym station in 2007. Multiply that number by eight (number of gym stations in 2007) and you end up with $17.44 million. If the $17.44 million is subtracted from the $17.6 million, the difference is $160,000, which is the cost for demolishing two gym stations. Note that all of these cost comparisons are construction costs only.

25 – Q: What accomodations (sic) are in the plans for existing storage needs and storage of future items that will inevitably be accrued in the years ahead, so that items are no longer stored in classrooms and hallways?
A: Storage space in planned throughout both schools by department. Storage space is allocated for present and future needs. Further, each school in the district is expected to go through an annual cleaning and culling process, with any items deemed to be excess being placed in an annual sale of excess assets.

26 – Q: Other than the expanded parking, will the appearance of Central from Gebhardt Road be any different after the remodeling than now?
A: The Gebhardt Road appearance will be different. Anticipated updates will be to the windows and trim starting from the main entrance (southwest corner), continuing along the front of the school (Gebhardt Road elevation), and wrapping around to the east side of the classroom wing. Panel exteriors will be replaced with brick. The entrance area will be updated for security and designation as the main entrance.

27 – Q: Are there water table and drainage problems to the east of BCHS that could cause flooding of the basements of 166th Street homes?
A: No significant building construction is proposed on the east side of BCHS. A civil engineer would design proposed site work to occur on the east side of the building (fire lane access road) so that the drainage plan does not have an adverse impact on the neighbors.

28 – Q: With the emergency/fire lane that is now required by code, how much distance remains between BCHS and the rear lot lines of homes on 166th Street, east of the school?
A: While the final design will not be completed until after the referendum, the fire lane will be located reasonable close to the existing building – probably within 100 feet, leaving at least a couple of hundred feet to the lot line.

29 – Q: Parking is already tight at BEHS and any sizeable (sic) addition would take out significant parking spaces. Is there a need to build additional parking at BEHS if this plan goes through? Is that cost planned for?
A: Additional parking is planned for the north parking lot and is included in the pricing estimate.

30 – Q: Will the exterior facade and look of East be updated in this project, or will the school look the same as now?
A: The exterior facade will be updated. Anticipated changes will be the new addition to the south as well as new windows and trim throughout. In addition, the green pre-cast panels will be replaced with brick. The entrance area will be updated for security and designation as the main entrance.

Number 13 is interesting – and completely avoided by the district. Why can’t we do it the way New Berlin did?

Number 30 is proof WANTS slipped in to this plan. Replacing the green composite stone side panels at East with brick doesn’t land on the NEED list I made.

Number 16 doesn’t give you a dollar amount. You only get a written assurance that the district would never give information for or against the referendum. They claim to be a neutral source. (Albeit one that won’t actually answer the hard questions.)

Number 12 is actually interesting to me – it’s a question I had, too.

The one that set me off? Number 9. The district is threating the voter here saying that test scores will go down if you don’t give them what they want.

Badly done.

UPDATE: 6:36 pm. – Where does the money I pay for admission to school plays and concerts go? To the district or two the Wilson Center? How much income is generated by the district performances?


  1. It really irks me on the question of whether or not they have allowed the facilities to deteriorate, the answer (implied, though it is) is that it’s OUR fault because we haven’t given them enough operating budget.

  2. This strikes me as a good-faith attempt to answer some of the recurring questions. Part of the answer to 13 is in number 3. It’s fair to ask for more information, but I hardly think we are getting a song and dance here.

  3. Oh, come on! You asked me for documentation of the millions in district surplus. I gave it to you. Now you want us to believe the district’s argument that proper maintenance is not available under the current budget!

    The board would rather build the kingdom with that surplus. They want to add to a couple of grade schools rather than reduce costs by eliminating outside enrollment and consolidating schools.

  4. No, I’m just saying I think someone tried to answer the questions. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  5. Interesting that the district has funds available to pay families a stipend for driving their own children to 4K, but claims to come up short on funds to maintain buildings. Priorities? I guess it should come as no surprise when they pump $800,000 into a program that was voted down the following year.