01STOCK_SCHOOL_2

JANESVILLE

Referendum.

It’s not a word Janesville School Board member Kevin Murray wanted to say out loud, but he thought the public needed to know.

Neither new buildings nor remodeling are driving the need for more money. Instead, it’s the less-glamorous prospect of addressing an estimated $120.43 million worth of building maintenance: aging boilers, replacement of air-handling units, asbestos abatement, updating electrical panels and new windows.

At a May 28 meeting, the board discussed the maintenance needs cited by Unesco, a Madison-based program management firm.

Of the $120.43 million in projects, an estimated $77.84 million worth of items are in the “alert” or “alarm” category, according to the firm’s report.

The report isn’t a surprise. For years, the board’s finance, buildings and grounds committee has whittled away at the Unesco list. The projects were funded either through the district’s capital improvement budget or through Act 32.

Act 32, which the Legislature passed in 2009, allowed school districts to exceed state-imposed revenue caps for projects that resulted in energy savings.

Revenue caps limit the amount of money districts can raise. If a district needs more money, a referendum is often the only option.

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Previously, the school board used Act 32 to pay for roof work, tuck-pointing, interior and exterior lighting, and heating and cooling maintenance at Edison Middle School.

Of the $120.43 million in current maintenance needs, about $106 million could have been covered using Act 32.

But Act 32 is no longer in effect, so districts can’t use the exemption. That’s why a referendum might be the only choice.

“If we’re looking down the road, it might be time to have that discussion—I hate to even say it—about a referendum. And that’s a big pill to swallow,” Murray said at the May 28 meeting.

Board member Dale Thompson agreed, adding, “If the Legislature doesn’t do anything, we might have to do something local.”

Board member Greg Ardrey said the finance, buildings and grounds committee has looked at ways to “slice and dice” maintenance items into each budget, but those efforts might not be enough.

Ardrey wanted to make it clear what kind of work was under consideration.

“Let’s not use the word improvements,” he said. “Let’s use the word maintenance.”

He said public buildings that must be closed often are closed because of lack of maintenance, not because of lack of use.

The Unesco report notes, “Without maintenance, building materials will decay and degrade at an accelerated rate.

“While all of the School District of Janesville buildings have maintenance issues, most have ‘good bones,’ meaning they were built to last,” the report states. “Most SDJ buildings are only halfway through their designed life, meaning they are excellent candidates for revitalization.”

School board President Steve Huth said the committee will continue to dissect the Unesco report, which contains what he described as an “incredible amount of data.”

The committee will return to the board with recommendations by September or October.

The district’s annual capital improvement budget is about $1.2 million to $1.5 million, so at that rate, the district will need more than two decades to address all the major maintenance issues, Huth said.

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