Asian engineer with hardhat using tablet pc computer inspecting and working at construction site

An estimated $301 million in repairs and improvements is needed over the next 15 years  for schools in the Peoria Unified School District, the district’s governing board was told May 1 during a budget study session.

David Sandoval, PUSD’s governing board president, said there could be new needs developing, too, because of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is going to expose some opportunities in how we potentially reinvent education,” Sandoval said.

Michelle Myers, PUSD’s chief financial officer, presented an overview of the most recently published facilities assessment and utilization study by ADM Group and Think Smart Planning. The purpose of the assessment was to develop a facilities master plan to identify the needs and costs of schools around the district, she said.

According to Myers, the suggested repairs and improvements  were prioritized based on safety, code compliance and the educational needs of the campus.

“I don’t want to put money into a bottomless hole, not that it doesn’t add value but because we’re going to move forward in a different direction,” board member Monica Ceja Martinez said.

Martinez agreed there is a need for critical repairs but added there is also a need for growth in the northern area of the district. She said it is important for the board to consider other visions for their district’s schools as well.

Martinez raised concerns that traditional brick-and-mortar schools may not be sufficient in the future, especially because of the challenges faced during the pandemic and the revealed need for more innovative ways of learning.

Myers said the district still has approximately $15 million in bonds remaining from the 2012 bond authorization that is available to be used for project expenditures.

In November, PUSD likely will make two requests of voters. One is authorization for bonds that can be used for renovations and repairs. The other ballot is a request for a maintenance and operation override.

Six months ago, a PUSD bond override failed by the slim margin of 133 votes.

PUSD voters first approved a 10% override in 1996 and renewed in 2001, 2006 and 2012. In 2015, voters approved a 13% override. The authorization lasts for seven years and phases out over the last two years if not renewed or replaced.

A maintenance and operation override assists in funding for staff positions and programs. The current maintenance and operation override supports programs such as all-day kindergarten, athletics and extracurricular activities, health services, gifted programs, and teacher and staff compensation

“We definitely want to keep the paid for all-day kindergarten,” said Cory Underhill, a board member. 

According to a study by Think Smart Planning, schools in the northern and western portions of the district are near or over capacity, while schools in the south and east are underutilized.

Sandoval said he would like to see schools that are underutilized because of a low number of students allow some of their unused classrooms to be used by the community.

The PUSD board is scheduled to meet in a voting session at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 14. To view the meeting, visit peoriaunified.org/Page/122.