Ostash gives Sierra Sands update

With earthquake recovery under way, facilities master plan moves forward

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Ostash gives Sierra Sands updateDr. David Ostash started his first day as superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District, on July 1, with a cabinet meeting to outline goals, vision and ideas with leaders of the district. “We had an incredibly productive and energetic meeting,” he said.

Then, on July 4, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit. Then a 7.1 hit the following day.

“So we did not have another normal cabinet meeting until a couple of weeks ago.”

Ostash addressed the challenges and opportunities facing Sierra Sands at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce.

“We have almost 600 employees,” he said. “These are the heart and mind and soul of our district.

“But the backbone of our district is you. Our public schools would not exist if we did not have you — the businesses and industries that drive our economy.”

Despite the recovery challenges posed by the earthquake, eight of the district’s 10 schools opened on time, he said.

Richmond Elementary School, which is slated for demolition in three years, turned out to be too costly to repair for its limited remaining time in operation. So the administrative offices at the former Vieweg School moved to the Sierra Vista property, and Richmond moved to Vieweg.

When the earthquakes hit, Gateway Elementary School was undergoing carpet replacement. So all of the school furniture was piled in the cafeteria. The contents suffered severe water damage when the quakes triggered the sprinkler system.

Because of the added challenges at those two campuses, the opening of those schools was delayed six days.

On the whole, though, he said, immediate repairs have been made and processes for completing the rest are in the works.

“The first phase is ‘exigent,’ a formal term which just gives us the authority to sign contracts and get the work done,” he said. That authority extends to any work that is absolutely necessary to teach students in the classroom.

Once all the work is completed, the district qualifies for a 75-percent reimbursement from the California Office of Emergency Services.

There are other potential revenue streams available — including FEMA, which kicks in if damages eclipse a certain level.

Ostash estimated that the district’s share for the recovery process will be between $500,000 and $750,000. He praised the SSUSD Board of Trustees for ensuring an adequate reserve fund for such expenses, thus protecting the district from incurring the additional cost of procuring a loan.

Before the earthquakes hit, Ostash and his board had committed to crafting a 10-year master facilities plan — which would outline a plan that projects needs of the district and prioritizes those elements.

Ostash said the district has not yet committed to how those needs will be funded, but noted that state bonds are one of the available options.

“We should have some really critical conversations in the community, get some civic engagement, about what is important to our stakeholders,” he said.

The Parker Performing Arts Building at Burroughs High School is among the facilities that have been shuttered for assessment and repairs, but “that is one of the very assets that should be included in those conversations.”

Pictured: Dr. David Ostash gives an update, shortly after the earthquakes, to the Ridgecrest Exchange Club. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-09-13