As students return for the first week of school under the protection of an almost $700,000 new roof at Pagosa Springs Elementary, this is the only time in the school district’s recent history that the staff will start the year under a salary freeze.
There is no money in the budget for a step increase.
The money, said Superintendent Mark DeVoti, paid for the roof.
“We did a bond initiative to replace these two buildings,” DeVoti explained, pointing out his office window at Pagosa Springs Middle School, “to get this campus out of downtown and put it with the high school.”
The bond issue failed.
The bond issue also included plans for a new building large enough to house an elementary school, “because we had major issues with the roof. It was almost non-existent, and that was about a $700,000 fix out of monies we really didn’t have.
“I want it to be safe for kids to fail, so they can learn something,” DeVoti said. “I want it safe for staff to fail, so they can learn something, and I want them to take the big chances. When I look back, we took probably the biggest chance we could. When we went for a bond, we didn’t say, ‘What’s something that maybe we could all pull together to do to make it better?’ We said, ‘What’s the ultimate? Let’s shoot for the moon.’ Well, we didn’t get the ultimate.”
When the voters of Archuleta County shot down the bond issue, “We applied to the state for BEST funding (Building Excellent Schools Today),” DeVoti explained. “We were told, through the grant cycles, ‘Your community has a very high bonding capacity.’ In other words, they look at our community based on the tax base and the ownership of homes, and they say, ‘You can afford to bond out $50 million to your community.’ Well, we went for a $49 million bond and it didn’t pass.
“We still needed to find ways to move forward. We didn’t get the grant, but we committed to fixing the roof, anyway. Now, (because of) what it’s costing us this year (it) is pretty much the first time ever we’re on a salary freeze. We don’t have a step increase built into the salaries, because we had to take our reserve money for the roof.”
According to a report by John Hesslink, president of Division 7 Design (the company that did the roof work at the elementary school), the school district didn’t have much of a choice — the school roof was in bad shape. “The Roof Replacement Project at Pagosa Elementary School was one to remember, marked by the contrast between the conditions observed in February and those witnessed in August.”
Hesslink’s report gives specific examples of the defects and how they were addressed. “The old mansard roofs were an architectural feature designed to draw all the elements together and lower the eye-line of the building. The high sloped plane prevented the shingle’s adhesive from bonding one layer to the next. The installer exposed too much of the shingles to the weather. Nails securing shingles to substrate only penetrated two layers of shingles, not three. Half the number of nails were used that are required by the manufacturer. Failure was inevitable. The sheet metal flashings didn’t work.
“HVAC equipment sat right on the old roof before. New curbs support the units well above the plane of the roof. Though the old roof had some structural slope, water created ponds in many locations, sometimes as much as three inches deep. A system of tapered insulation panels was installed to provide positive drainage. Extra slope was built into the new system at the roof drains to be sure they were the lowest point on the roof. Often times before, water collected near drains but was dammed by multiple flashing layers right at the drain. The result was maximum stress where there was maximum risk.
“The Cafeteria roof was typical of the entire roof. The old coating system was ineffective. It did nothing to correct the deficiencies of the original roofing system. The roof drains were too high and created water ponds. There were no overflow drains or scuppers to protect the building in the event a storm drain below was blocked. Perimeter flashings allowed water to run behind the mansard shingles below.
“All rooftop equipment and penetrations abandoned in place were demolished. Cleaning up the roof pays long term benefits. The 90 mil thick EPDM single ply membrane is adhered to a moisture resistant/fireproof cover board over two layers of two inch thick polyisocyanurate insulation. The new components were designed and installed to work as a system to keep the building dry for a very long time.
“Snow melt on the west side of the building was trapped behind a low parapet. Outlets were spaced very far apart to coincide with stone veneer on the CMU walls below. The unintended consequences were ice dams and leaks through the defective roofing system installed before, in an earlier project. The new system does away with the impediment and increases the slope in the last four feet before the roof’s edge. Continuous sheet flow off the roof and into the gutter promises no ice dams.
“Springtime waterfalls from the roof have scoured away at the asphalt paving. Massive ice walls grew all winter long. The floor level at these classrooms is much lower than the driveway. Water coming through the walls and floors is every bit as bad as a roof leak.
“The new system allows water to collect in a continuous roof edge gutter with a positive slope from high point to downspout. Self-regulating heat tape in the gutters and downspouts will keep snowmelt flowing until it is far away from the foundation.
“Most school buildings in Colorado have white colored roofs due to one size fits all guidelines for reflective roofs. Architects select white colored materials to earn points for reduced air conditioning costs because of the solar heat rejecting roof. This new roof is black for a reason. Snowfall melts far more quickly on a black roof. When stored snow is reduced, so is the load on the roof. When the water on the roof goes away, the problems go with it. Roof drain sumps have minimum insulation to insure snowmelt will run off the roof into the building’s interior storm drains before re-freezing. Ice dams are avoided if not eliminated. Ponding on the old roof is no longer an issue.
“Before this project there was a pervasive acceptance that flat roofs in snow country leak. Always have, always will. Hereafter, roof leaks will be a fading memory.”
DeVoti tried to put the news about the salary freeze in perspective by saying, “Ninety-five percent of Colorado is three to five years behind on step increases or any type of salary increment. We have remained current every single year, even though we have gone from a $12 million to a $9.5 million general fund budget for the schools.” He also explained this declining budget has been weathered without any personnel layoffs, through shuffling positions and not replacing those who have voluntarily retired.
Another indicator of the pinch being placed on district staff is the number of employees who can no longer afford to buy into the insurance plan.
“We used to have 180 people in our self-insurance pool,” said DeVoti. “Now we’re down to about 120.”
The district’s troubles don’t end there: With reserve money spent on fixing the elementary school roof and no room in the budget to give teachers a raise, there is still the issue of several old buildings that are not energy efficient and that require high utility costs.
“So what’s the plan B?” DeVoti asked. “You know if you get knocked down, you get back up and you probably ought to have a plan B. So, we worked through the Governor’s Energy Office and we got with Honeywell Corporation, and the board passed a performance contract.”
DeVoti explained the performance contract: Honeywell did an energy audit on all of the buildings in the district, evaluating how much money is spent on utilities each year, how much is wasted, and what can be done to cut down on energy costs. Then, Honeywell promised that, with a $1.5 million loan over 15 years at 2-percent interest, the buildings could be retrofitted with upgrades that save the district more in energy costs than it would be paying out in loan payments.
Hand-in-hand with the Honeywell agreement and loan, the district will take steps to manage energy consumption.
According to a new energy policy adopted by the district, “Energy policy is fundamental in order for the District to reduce the impact utility costs have on the budget, ensure that energy is used efficiently, and to maintain a reliable supply of energy to meet the functional needs of the district. It is the policy of the Archuleta Joint 50 School District to conserve energy and natural resources. The implementation of this policy is the joint responsibility of board members, administrators, teachers, students and support personnel and its success is based on cooperation at all levels.
The policy contains a long list of technical guidelines, including how to set the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. It also talks about turning off lights and opening blinds, but near the end of the list it states, “The use of personal appliances such as electric coffee makers, microwaves, refrigerators, toaster ovens, pizza makers, and/or other cooking or refrigeration appliances will not be allowed without the prior approval of the District Superintendent and the Director of Facilities. The use of small fans, radios and desk lamps is allowed, but must be turned off when not in use. All approved items must be Energy Star Rated and UL Approved.”
Honeywell also suggested that personal fans be banned from the classrooms, but DeVoti said district officials would have to wait and see how well the new ventilation system works, because the No. 1 priority is creating a safe learning environment for students. Honeywell agreed, but said that, if the new ventilation system isn’t working well enough, to let them know and they will fix it.
DeVoti said he understood that when the voters denied the bond issue for building new schools they were not denying support for education; they were sending the message that new facilities are not as important as what goes on inside the classroom.
However, the question now becomes, what will go on in the classroom with a budget so tight that teachers are not only denied raises, but can’t afford to waste energy on brewing themselves a cup of coffee before school, on keeping a little refrigerator in their classroom, or on running a little fan to stay comfortable on those late summer days before winter hits?