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S.L. board may seek $90 million school bond

SHARE S.L. board may seek $90 million school bond

The Salt Lake City Board of Education might seek $90 million in bonds, perhaps in the November general election, to cool and seismically retrofit all schools in 10 years.

The board Tuesday tinkered with the notion, which would save the district $6 million and includes cooling schools within eight years and expediting retrofits. Salt Lake City School District had recommended a 15-year air-conditioning implementation plan to match retrofits through 2020.New time lines will be discussed at a March 31 board meeting. The board also requested data on property tax impacts in case of a bond election.

"I think we've talked about this long enough. Let's get it on the agenda as soon as possible and make a decision so we can move forward," said board member Cliff Higbee.

The air-conditioning issue boiled in several Wasatch Front school districts last fall as the mercury reached 100 degrees in some classrooms, making some teachers and students sick. Nine of Salt Lake District's 36 schools are air-conditioned, as are district offices.

The board last month voted to air condition schools, ending years of public pleas to do so.

The district has $30 million for retrofits left over from a $70 million bond passed in 1993, Kent Michie, vice president of public finance at Zions Bank, told the board. Bond rates are at 25-year lows, and market fluctuations are unlikely this year, he said.

Speeding up retrofits would require additional borrowing but not cost more than the planned $220 million, Gary Harmer, district business administrator, said Wednesday. Those funds were to be saved from 25 years of incoming revenue.

A $90 million bond would fund speedy retrofits and $14.2 million for air conditioning - about a $6 million savings from a recommended 15-year implementation plan, Harmer said. Annual operation and maintenance for air conditioning would cost $1.7 million, $300,000 less than the 15-year plan.

Combining air conditioning with retrofits also would prevent needs to tear out new cooling systems during retrofits.

"I think this (bond election idea) has a lot of merit if the people would accept it, and there's reason to believe they would," Harmer said. "And if the people turn us down, we're nowhere (worse off) than we were before."

District buildings and grounds director Stephen Harman is revamping proposed air conditioning implementation plans. The district's recommended 15-year plan was opposed by some residents and board members.

"It seems like we make haste slowly. It's ridiculous. We're all going to be dead before we see air conditioning," board member Jan Clemmer said in a March 3 meet-ing.

Members of high school community councils asked the board to first cool the three high schools: West, East and Highland. That would ensure all students would enjoy air conditioning at some point - a concept embraced by board member Kathy Black.

But debate could heat up in determining which school swelter will end first.

"To say the high schools are first and to say the elementaries will wait eight years, that's not fair to the elementaries," said board vice president Diane Barlow.