Times Herald Record
December 7, 2004

Cost of new schools creates gasps, laughs

By Ramsey Al-Rikabi

Liberty When "$17.5 million" came up on the screen, some people in the audience gasped. Others laughed.

That's how much it might cost to renovate Liberty High School, and that's not even half of it for the whole district.

The total cost for improving or rebuilding the district's three aging and ailing schools could be more than $45 million, Liberty School District's Facilities Planning Committee said in a public meeting Thursday.

It was the first time any cost estimates were made public.

"We wanted to give people a general idea what this scale of project would cost," Tom Goskoski, the district's school business administrator, said yesterday about the meeting. "This is still the very early stages of development."

The district's planning committee also estimated it would cost $25 million to renovate the elementary school, or about $28.5 million to build a new one.

"We're looking at a Cadillac solution to this," local architect Robert Dadras said at the meeting about the elementary school renovation estimates. "And Liberty cannot afford a Cadillac."

After the first public Facilities Planning Committee meeting in June, the district sent out more than 7,000 surveys to district residents to pinpoint their concerns. Only 314 people responded, and fewer than 100 of those have kids in the district.

Liberty School Superintendent Lawrence Clarke is a little frustrated by low public interest in an issue that he said will affect their children, communities, property values and taxes.

"It's really a two-way street," Clarke said.

The district's schools are old and overcrowded. The high school is more than 40 years old, the elementary school more than 70, and the relatively new middle school has water leaking through the roof and windows. The district is trying to get maximum public input through public hearings and mailings before the planning committee makes any final recommendations to the school board.

"At least we're getting some numbers," Linda Thompson, a district parent and former PTA president, said at the meeting. "Although they are scary."