The Kent School Board delayed a decision on approving an additional $2.5 million for the renovation of the newly named Canyon Ridge Middle School until it gets more financial information from Kent School District staff.
District staff asked the board at its May 24 meeting for funds above the $8 million renovation budget the board approved Oct. 26,2022. The district is renovating the former Kent Phoenix Academy and Sequoia Middle School, 11100 SE 264th St., to help handle the transition this fall of sixth-grade students to middle schools from elementary schools.
Board President Joe Bento and director Meghin Margel fired numerous questions at Dave Bussard, district executive director of Operations and Facilities, about the $2.5 million request.
According to district documents, the extra funding is needed for an upgrade to the synthetic football field storm water retention system; asbestos abatement in several areas discovered during the ongoing renovation; and additional fencing, safety and security items after a walk through by the principal and core team who had not taken a walk prior to the original budget discussions.
Margel said she was fine with the asbestos abatement and security measures.
“I want to know about the field, what changed, what other options do we have and where is the money coming from,” said Margel, who added she also wants to know if other projects could be impacted due to this extra funding request.
Bussard replied that he had budgeted $4 million for the field out of the $8 million renovation and included $1.2 million in contingency funds. He said during the pre-application it was unknown that the field would require such a large water retention system.
“Other options, if we do not stay with the commitment of a synthetic field, we could possibly do a grass field,” Bussard said.
He said recent new grass fields at Mattson, Cedar Heights and Meeker middle schools ranged from about $2.8 million to $3.8 million.
“For $1.8M more you can have a synthetic field that you don’t have to water or mow and you can use it year-round, even those from other schools,” Bussard said.
In addition to a synthetic football field, the renovation also includes an eight-lane rubber track around the field.
Margel then asked about a grass field and when they could be ready.
Bussard estimated it would take about three years to install a new grass field from seed and pointed out that the current grass field isn’t usable because it has rust in it.
Superintendent Israel Vela joined the discussion and told the board a grass field still requires water retention. He also said a synthetic field would allow other schools to schedule events at Canyon Ridge.
As the discussion continued, Bento began to question Bussard about where the money comes from for this project and other projects.
“I understand pools of money from (the 2016) bond and the (2018) levy,” Bento said. “I don’t know as a board member what’s in those. …I need more clarity, I need to see what’s left in it, how much contingency we have, it’s like collecting money from the air. What does the balance budget look like?”
Bento requested district staff to provide such numbers.
“I need the bigger picture, it’s all imaginary numbers to me,” Bento said. “I hope we can get that, I want to see that.”
Bussard told the board in October 2022 he was confident the renovation would come in under budget. The renovations include painting, all new carpet, new flooring, two outdoor courtyard upgrades, library upgrades, all new furniture, new bathroom finishes and other items.
“I’m hopeful this is it,” Bussard told the board May 24. “I have put in a cushion for this. I’m hopeful to get the city’s final commitment of retention numbers and permit, and look at the number to go down. My goal is not to spend all of this money. It’s not a want but a commitment to the kids.”
Margel wanted more financial numbers. The $2.5 million request didn’t specify how much each of the three projects would cost.
“I’m still struggling that we are asking for money today but in a few months you’ll tell us what the balance looks like,” Margel said. “I have a checkbook, this is important because it’s all taxpayers’ funds. …it’s hard to approve more money not knowing what the balance in the checkbook is.”
Margel said she wants to know about how much is in the contingency fund and what other projects remain to be done.
“We should do that before we approve more money,” she said.
Bussard hesitated initially about providing numbers.
“This money is contingency, and we are over budget now on the school,” he said. “If you need a detailed report I can do that. I don’t think it’s productive, if we do not spend the money, it’ll be brought back.”
Margel said she wants specific financial figures.
“I understand things go over the line,” she said. “But I want to look at levy funds and bond funds, this is where we are taking money from because it’s not new money. What are the projects coming up and will they get done? I want to see a list of projects and the budget line balance.”
Vela said district staff would provide financial numbers to the board at its June 14 meeting.
Director Awale Farah asked Bussard if a delay in approval of the extra funds would impact whether the field is completed by the start of school in late August.
“We could still have the field done, but we would need a decision by the next board meeting,” Bussard said.
Bento looks forward to seeing the financial picture.
“I’m glad to hear we will get something, and have better clarity,” Bento said. “My role is to understand the budget and I don’t understand. We need better clarity. …that’s why we are asking for the information.”
Vela said it was, “good conversation and dialogue” by the board and staff.
Margel then moved to table the request for additional renovation funds for Canyon Ridge Middle School to the next regular board meeting on June 14.
Margel, Bento and Farah voted in favor of the motion. Director Leslie Hamada abstained. Director Tim Clark was absent.
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