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Schools to examine cost-saving alternatives

Published Sep. 13, 2005

No carpeting in elementary schools and no game fields at middle and high schools are among the hundreds of recommendations being proposed for Hillsborough's next generation of schools.

On Tuesday, the School Board will consider these proposals as it sets budget goals for new construction, which one school official said could save and earn the district about $38.65-million for its next eight schools alone.

Jim Hamilton, the assistant superintendent for operations, said that amount reflects not only what Hillsborough would save by driving out excess costs, but also what it would gain by becoming eligible for state incentives set aside for frugal school construction.

The recommendations for what to reduce or eliminate are based on the work of "user teams" and construction officials who visited old and new schools in March.

These teams, which included teachers, principals, custodians, lunchroom managers and parents, were asked to cut waste and frills and rethink "essential" so that Hillsborough could build new schools more cheaply.

The School Board is being asked to accept the recommendations as a menu of options for school officials to consider when, using the new budget guidelines, they set educational specifications for space, furnishings and equipment.

"These recommendations could be accepted, discarded or modified, but what is not negotiable is the cost of building a new school," Hamilton said.

"Every dollar that gets saved, and every (incentive) dollar that gets earned, is an additional dollar we can use to build an additional school, to take kids out of portables or to renovate and repair older schools."

The budget goals for new schools are below state caps for construction by 85 or 89 percent, depending on the type of school being built, Hamilton said.

The recommendations include high-priced items, such as scaling back auditoriums, athletic fields and multipurpose rooms and getting rid of wrestling rooms, whirlpools and fully outfitted concession stands.

But they include smaller-ticket items, such as getting rid of world globes in grade eight and cutting back on the number of frog models, microscopes, paper cutters and tumbling mats available to all grades.

Libraries and lunchrooms should be cooled by ceiling fans, not air-conditioning, and some computers should be leased, not bought, other recommendations suggest.

"They run the gamut," Hamilton said. "Some recommendations are great, some, I'm sure, are not so great. Some save a lot of money, some may save no money. And I'm sure there are important suggestions that are not even on the list. What they are is a range of options."

The suggestion for building practice facilities but not baseball, football, soccer and softball game fields is based on the presumption that those games could be played at other nearby facilities.

That might not play well with athletic boosters, who might prefer the recommendations to delete the dance room, the kiln room or the upright piano in the practice room.

Hamilton said it is essential for special interests to stay focused on the real goals of a school _ the delivery of a sound educational program.

"All of these things are good to have, and good for kids, but some are more important than others. It's the more important that we need to retain," Hamilton said.

"I don't have a vested interest in making any particular thing go away. I have a vested interest in making the cost go down."

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