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VOL. 133 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 4, 2018

Germantown To Fund School Deferred Maintenance

By Bill Dries

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Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo will propose more city capital funding in his upcoming budget proposal for renovation and maintenance of schools in the Germantown Municipal School District.

Palazzolo announced the move this week at the groundbreaking for construction of the new $27 million, 110,000-square-foot Germantown Elementary School on Forest Hill-Irene Road south of Poplar Pike.

He termed the funding “a very strategic new partnership with our school district.”

The new $27 million Germantown elementary school that Germantown leaders broke ground on this week is to be completed and opened in August 2019. It is being built off the road at Forest Hill Irene Road south of Poplar Pike on a campus. The campus will include a lake and a new administration building for the Germantown Municipal School District. (Daily News/ Bill Dries)

“We are going to tackle deferred maintenance in a very aggressive way and get a lot of those deferred maintenance items in those inherited schools that we got from SCS that need more than just tender loving care,” Palazzolo said. “They need some real work done. We’re going to get that done in short order.”

The “inherited schools” Palazzolo mentioned refers to the three elementary, one middle and one high school that make up the Germantown Municipal School District, which was created in 2014 when the county’s six suburbs broke off from Shelby County Schools to each form their own system.

Palazzolo's budget proposal includes $3 million over the next two fiscal years to replace the boiler system at Riverdale School; $200,000 in each of the next five fiscal years to fund the Houston Arts and Athetlics Foundation field house construction and auditorium renovation projects at Houston High School. 

Palazzolo is also proposing $5 million possibly as early as the 2020 fiscal year to fund an expansion at Houston Middle School. 

Germantown schools superintendent Jason Manuel said at the outset of the district’s formation that it inherited $26 million in deferred maintenance to the five schools. Fleming Architects prioritized the needs, and the school system and city have been working through them over the past four years.

“We still have a long road,” he said. “This is the first time that I’ve ever seen a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The new elementary school, being built on what is known as the Broer/Schaeffer Properties, is more of a campus than a school on a street, Manuel said.

An oak tree estimated to be more than 427 years old is among the trees that will remain on the campus of the new  Germantown elementary school being built on Forest Hill Irene Road south of Poplar Pike. Germantown leaders broke ground of the $27 million project last week. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“Every tree that you see out here is going to stay now,” Manuel said, pointing to an enormous oak tree that is estimated to be 427 years old.

The new Germantown Elementary is to open in the 2019-20 academic year with 400 to 500 students; the capacity of the school will be 850 students.

“It creates capacity at our other schools. So at Farmington and Dogwood and Riverdale (elementary schools), each of those schools now gain about 130 to 150 student capacity,” Manuel said. “So those areas of the city that turn over as older families decide to sell their homes and younger families are coming in, we can also accommodate it through the city. So it changes the whole ballgame in the K-5 grades.”

The new elementary school was one of two options as the city and school system made several unsuccessful offers to buy Germantown Elementary and Germantown Middle from Shelby County Schools. SCS kept those, as well as Germantown High, in the suburban demerger negotiations to handle student needs in southeast Memphis.

The Germantown school district also built a 61,500-square-foot, 20-classroom addition onto Riverdale K-8 School to meet its immediate space needs.

A2H designed that as well as Lakeland’s 112,000-square-foot Lakeland Middle Preparatory School.

A2H principal architect Stewart Smith said Germantown’s two-story elementary school will have lots of natural light, indoor and outdoor classrooms, and 21st-century technology.

“The kindergarten will have access to its own playground. There is wireless throughout so there is a lot of connectivity,” Smith said. “Students can write on their desk and it shows up on the screen. If there’s a laptop, they can plug in anywhere.”

Beyond the initial growth that most of the suburban school systems are accommodating through new buildings are capital needs the Shelby County administration has been preparing for. That includes a major capital ask from Shelby County Schools, which gets the lion’s share of such county funding distributed on the basis of average daily attendance.

County chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said this week the freeze of capital projects and planning that marked the historic change when Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merged in 2013 then split with the formation of the suburban districts one year later is starting to thaw when it comes to county funding.

It’s allowed the county to shrink its capital debt below the $900 million level a fiscal year after the debt went below $1 billion for the first time in at least a decade.

“I think we are seeing now that those days are over. They are starting to get a little bit more aggressive about their needs and coming in with a larger ask,” Kennedy said of the school systems. “We’re still in good shape because even with the larger ask it takes a while to execute that. We don’t really have to borrow and fund the long-term debt because we are still in the process of paying off short-term.”

County finance and administration director Wanda Richards said there is also a delay in deciding to build, designing the projects and then starting construction.

“Last year, we thought the schools would be farther along than they are,” she said. “We thought we would actually have spent more this year. … There’s kind of almost a two-year delay.”

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