Superintendent Ostash looks ahead

Superintendent Ostash looks aheadBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer Dr. Dave Ostash, Superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District (SSUSD), tells us, “In the coming years there will be a focus on being resourceful. What I mean by that, a thriving community has a number of factors, but it has to include a thriving school district. It is a democratic foundation, it is what gives neighborhoods values, but more important than home values is living values. For the majority of Americans the promise of the American dream hinges on a good public education. Obviously, not everyone needs a public education to achieve economic success. There are many different roadways. But for the vast majority of Americans the single greatest roadway to the American dream is a great education.

Part of my job is to look down the road and ask how do we position the district for future success? Future success comes from decisions that are made now and come to fruition later. In the last 15 years we have found ways to modernize our schools. The one school that we have not been able to modernize is Monroe Middle School. We must find a solution so that the next generation of learners does not have any interruption.

In 2006 Ridgecrest passed Measure A and the community helped support SSUSD. It allowed us to modernize most of our schools. Also, the Department of Defense has grants for schools in serious need. Through that grant we able to get a new Murray built, significantly modernize Burroughs High School, and a third grant to build a new Richmond school, which we hope to open in two years. We have gotten three 80% grants. By the time we are through with those three grants, we will have invested 150 million dollars in external grant moneys. With Measure A, which allowed $25 million from the community, we were able to modernize the other schools.

So fast forward to today. We must solve the Monroe Middle School facility issue. We have had studies about it for the last five years. We surveyed the community about a year and half ago and got lukewarm results. We went back to the drawing board and re-imagined and we have a plan to re-purpose Monroe into a non-student use facility and then adding a wing to the new Murray Middle School so we can reorganize and put all of the valley’s 7th and 8th graders there. In a couple of years, when all of the students move from Vieweg to Richmond, we can put all of the 6th graders at Vieweg.

Modernizing is a very expensive process it typically involves doing the stuff you can’t see: electrical, sewage, water systems, roofs, HVAC. Of course modernization can include new lighting, new ceilings, technology. The most expensive piece is typically what you can’t see. The infrastructure. The Monroe school is from the 1950’s, it would require significant modernization. You get to the point where you are throwing good money after bad.

Schools use the FCI, Facilities Condition Index, where zero is brand new and 100 is tear down. At 51 or higher you have a conversation about building new versus modernizing. If you are at 51-58, probably you are going to decide to modernize. You get to the 70’s and above, unless you have a mitigating factor like it is a legacy landmark, you build new. Monroe is around 90-91 on the FCI. You could put dozens and dozens of millions of dollars into it, but you will still have an old plant that will continue to require attention. It makes monetary sense to build new. The problem is building new could be 100 million dollars to build. Which is perhaps an insurmountable ask of the community.

So we are trying to optimize our thinking in the kinds of plans and strategies we can employ. We believe the plan we have come up with: re-purpose Monroe as a non-student facility, modernize Vieweg, build a new classroom wing at Monroe, and then put solar at our schools so we can displace our million dollar per year electric bill. And put the savings from that in a annual deferred maintenance fund so we can put more money in our school facilities than we have been able to.

We are always looking for ways that guarantee that our school district not only is currently successful but also has a future of success. That is a huge part of strategic goals.”

Story First Published: 2021-08-27