ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District board will propose $750,000 for deferred maintenance projects in this year’s budget at its upcoming June 23 meeting following concerns of facilities disrepair raised by district residents earlier this month.
The local consternation stems from a 1,400-page report assessing the conditions of nine educational facilities in the district. The report, which cost the school district $300,000, was completed by Kitchell, a facilities management company.
Based on the report’s findings, the school district estimated repair and maintenance costs totaling $73 million in 2020 dollars – $77 million as of June 2021 – of which only $2 million had been funded, according to a facilities presentation from June 2021.
The school board is set to approve and adopt the 2022-23 budget this Thursday, which will add $750,000 for deferred maintenance, marking a threefold increase from the $250,000 set aside in previous years.
However, at the school board’s June 9 meeting, Interim Superintendent Tina Douglas advised the board that $5 million to $6 million would be needed annually to address all of the deferred maintenance in the district.
The Kitchell report
The Kitchell report organized the $77 million worth of maintenance concerns into three categories of exigency.
Priority 1 conditions, totaling $21 million, require immediate action to correct a safety hazard, stop deterioration or return the facility to operation. The report recommends these top-tier concerns be completed within one to two year: damaged and non-compliant roof hardware, expired AC units, non-compliant doors and missing handrails at multiple school sites.
“There are critical maintenance concerns that our district has neglected over many years,” said district resident Carol Chang in a public comment at the June 9 meeting. “Throughout our school district, there are poorly closing and latching doors. It is a critical thing especially if you think about the crazy, heart-wrenching things that have been going on in our country. In the case of an active shooter, it is critical for the doors to latch.”
The remaining maintenance concerns are sorted into Priority 2, projects recommended to be completed within the next four years, and Priority 3, which should be completed in the next five years after more urgent repairs. These deficiencies range from repainting stairways to a $3.6 million turf replacement at Torrey Pines High School’s Ed Burke Field.
Kimberly McSherry, a parent of four current and past students in the district, became concerned by facility disrepair during the COVID-19 pandemic after multiple HVAC systems at schools needed repair or replacement.
In 2015 – a year when no district funds were set aside for maintenance projects – her son broke his arm after tripping on a pathway at Torrey Pines.
“At the time, I was like ‘Oh well, he probably wasn’t paying attention,’” McSherry said. “But in hindsight, I’m pretty sure that was one of those spots [in disrepair] because they have a lot of damage to the sidewalks and the stairs and it does make for fall risks.”
Fixing the problem
When it comes to custodial employees, the school district is currently understaffed. The new acreage acquired through Proposition AA, a $449 million bond initiative, did not coincide with hiring more custodians. Over the last two years, six custodians were hired; however, the district is still down by approximately 20 people, according to Douglas.
In addition to fewer maintenance staff members, the district did not have a deferred maintenance program from 2012 to 2018. In 2019, the district began rebuilding its deferred maintenance program, according to John Addleman, the district’s executive director of planning services.
Today, Addleman anticipates the combination of a renewed deferred maintenance program, sufficient custodial staffing, and capital programs, such as the current $8.57 million roof and HVAC replacement project at Carmel Valley Middle School, will largely alleviate top-level concerns over the next three years.
“Having a regular maintenance budget and staffing sufficient enough to maintain the day-to-day needs of the facilities is important in order to get most life out of a facility, as well as having a sufficient deferred maintenance program and capital program when it comes time for the more costly renovations and replacements of those facilities,” Addleman said.
Some community members are pushing the school board to halt new projects — specifically two new swimming pools on school campuses in the northern and southern parts of the district — until the district has alleviated its deferred maintenance issues.
While the district will fund the construction of the pools through Fund 40, a reserve fund for capital outlay projects, the cost of annual maintenance will come out of the district’s general fund, according to Trustee Katrina Young.
“I understand [the district] has the initial capital outlay [to build the pool,] but the ongoing maintenance and the staff is going to have to be funded and we only have a limited budget,” said Melissa Fischel, a district resident. “The ongoing maintenance and ongoing staffing will be competing against all the other staff and all the other maintenance in the district.”
The estimated cost to operate and maintain the pools will be approximately $243,000 per year for a 37-meter pool or $1 million annually for a larger 50-meter facility.
“We want to prioritize a pool, but if there’s a building that needs renovating, we need a way to make sure that we’re getting everything in the proper order of how it should be addressed and handled,” Young said.