School Board, County Commissioners Receive Facilities Study
Jan. 31, 2019 — The Guilford County Board of Education and Guilford County Board of County Commissioners received the final results of a school district-wide facilities and boundary optimization study at a special meeting Thursday.
The two boards split the cost of the $899,635 study by MGT Consulting Group to examine the district’s long- and short-term facility needs. GCS encompasses more than 12 million square feet of building space to serve more than 73,000 pre-K-12 students. Local tax dollars, provided by the county commissioners, are used to maintain and upgrade GCS’ 340 schools and buildings, which have an average age of 51 years.
The report suggests a comprehensive plan with an estimated cost of nearly $1.5 billion that would be phased in over time to address shortcomings while also identifying areas where the district could more efficiently utilize space.
School and district buildings were assessed, scored and ranked based on the overall condition of the facility, educational suitability for 21st century learning, technology infrastructure and site, including age of facility infrastructure, quantity and size of appropriate academic and support spaces, and space utilization compared to short and long term student enrollment projections). These scores then were combined into one rating that was used to rank and prioritize schools by need by level (elementary, middle and secondary).
Per the study, a high percentage of district schools, particularly at the elementary school level, received unsatisfactory or poor ratings. Schools received some of the lowest scores for educational suitability, which indicates whether the facility and technology support current academic standards and instructional strategies. Facilities for maintenance, transportation and administration also received low ratings.
“I visit schools and classrooms every week, and I have seen for myself how our aging and often dilapidated buildings and inadequate instructional technology are hampering the work of our educators and holding our students back in comparison to what school districts are providing students nationally,” said Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras. “21st century learning requires new ways of designing and building schools and classrooms.”
The consultants estimate that the total cost of building new schools, making needed repairs to aging systems, bringing all schools up to standard, eliminating the backlog of deferred maintenance and providing adequate funds for preventive and ongoing maintenance for school and support facilities will cost more than $6.9 billion over the next 30 years.
“The district has consistently made improvements and renovations to school buildings to ensure they were meeting the needs of the programs and the students in which they serve,” said the report. “Updates have been made with a limited operations/facility budget, which has affected the district’s ability to keep up with the rising costs of maintaining their asset portfolio.”
In addition to identifying needed repairs, the report also looked to address how the district could more effectively use its space. The report found the district has more than enough space to house all 73,000 students, but noted that balancing capacity in densely populated areas and rural areas creates a challenge.
In many cases, schools that are overcrowded are located in different communities and geographic areas than schools that are underutilized. The report also noted that magnet and option schools are not distributed equitably across the county.
“We knew that many of our aging school buildings were not providing our students with the best possible learning environment, and we knew not all of our buildings were being fully utilized,” said Scott McCully, GCS chief operations officer. “We are grateful for this objective assessment of our needs, and look forward to working alongside the county commissioners to determine where we go from here.”
Potential solutions offered by the consulting firm include building new schools, repurposing some school buildings, and adjusting and consolidating some schools and school boundaries. However, these are recommendations only.
“While there aren’t any real surprises, the study provides a useful framework and has identified some of the areas of greatest need,” said Deena A. Hayes, chairperson of the Guilford County Board of Education.
With the last project remaining from the $457 million bond project approved by voters in 2008 scheduled for completion this year, Hayes thanked the Board of County Commissioners for sharing in the cost of the study.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues in the county as we develop a plan to provide our students with better and more appropriate facilities,” said Hayes, a local business owner. “Studies show a significant return on investment for taxpayers and employers when communities invest more in high quality schools for all children.”
The summary report and school-by-school analyses are posted here. Next steps include scheduling another meeting of the BOE-BOCC joint committee, once members have had the opportunity to digest the report findings and recommendation.
Joint Capital/Facilities Committee Hears Preliminary Update of Facilities Study
In January 2018, the Guilford County Board of Education approved a contract with MGT Consulting Group to pay for half of the cost of a district-wide facilities and boundary optimization study. The school board agreed to pay $449,817.50 of the $899,635 study. The remainder was paid by the Board of County Commissioners.
County and district officials formed a Joint Capital and Facilities Committee in the spring of 2017 to examine the district’s long-term facilities needs and potential solutions. Guilford County Schools encompasses more than 12 million square feet of building space to serve more than 72,000 pre-K-12 students. Local tax dollars, provided by the county commissioners, are used to maintain and upgrade GCS’ 340 schools and buildings, which have an average age of 51 years.
“The study will give us an objective understanding of our facilities needs and resources and how we can best utilize our facilities in the coming years, especially as we consider the impact of class-size legislation,” said Scott McCully, chief operations officer, at the time the study was approved. “We’re glad to be working together with our county commissioners and county leadership to do what’s best for the students of Guilford County.”
The study looked at both short-term and long-term needs of the district and determined whether current facilities are being used effectively and if school boundaries need to be adjusted to maximize the use of space. The study also reviewed each building and site to determined physical condition, educational adequacy, technology readiness and safety standards. After the study was completed this fall, MGT provided a facilities master plan that the district and county can use for future planning. To view the draft report, which was presented to both boards on October 11, 2018, click here.
The study aligns with a recommendation of the Superintendent’s Transition Team to “conduct a comprehensive study of all facilities and renovate facilities for 21stcentury learning.” Read more about the Transition Team here.