Northgate faces capital costs

Although still in its most preliminary stages, a study estimating the cost of future capital improvements in the Northgate School District was presented to the school board Monday night. In short, the study projected financial news for taxpayers that goes from bad to worse.

Superintendent Dr. Caroline Johns said that the district began the first phase of an in-depth facilities study in 2016 with the hiring of architectural/engineering firm HHSDR. Last August, the firm presented the results of its study of the district's three schools and their capital improvement needs.

School board finance committee chair Dan O'Keefe then put together a comparison of costs for various options ranging from construction of a new elementary school to renovation of the existing buildings.

Both elementary schools are more than a century old, having initially served as high schools for the independent Avalon and Bellevue school districts that merged to form the Northgate School District in the 1970s. At that time a new high school was built on Union Avenue, and the old high schools went on to house middle school and grade school students at various times.

Based on the facilities study and cost estimates reported by HHSDR, the cost of renovations that will be needed at each of the district's three buildings in 8-12 years are staggering. Expenditures are projected at $6.1 million at Avalon Elementary. $9.2 million at Bellevue Elementary, and $14.2 million at the high school. Throw in another potential cost of $3.1 million for Alumni Field, and the renovation costs facing Northgate in the next decade could soar as high as $32 million to $40 million.

O'Keefe noted that immediate renovation needs at the schools are projected to cost $801,500 for Avalon, $1.9 million for Bellevue, and $3.3 million for the high school.

The study also looks at the estimated cost of closing both elementary schools and building a new elementary school where Alumni Field currently is located. Construction of a new school that would house all elementary students in the district is projected to cost between $31 million and $40 million, with another $8 million projected for construction of a new stadium at the high school.

How might Northgate pay for it all? O'Keefe said that in the very best of scenarios - which includes growth in property values, reimbursement of some construction costs by the state, and maintaining a status quo with regard to the district's current costs -- a 20- or 30-year bond issue will necessitate withdrawals from the district's reserve fund balance, and annual property tax increases for as long as a decade.

Over the next few months, O'Keefe said, the district will be taking a closer look at what work needs to be done, and prioritizing projects. That should enable the district to get more accurate cost estimates, he said. The board also will be working on a five-year budget projection and reviewing the district's reserve fund.

He noted that the decisions that will be made by the board in the near future will impact the community at large for decades. Board president Gary Paladin agreed. “We have a daunting task ahead of us,” he said.