Half million for two bathrooms, it's no April Fool's joke

Editorial Gary Mug

When their facilities consultant told the school board that renovating two of the Oroville Elementary School bathrooms would be between $400-450,000 or more, you could have heard a pin drop. Even when you consider that’s actually four bathrooms (boys and girls on the north end of the building, and boys and girls on the south end) it still seemed like it was some sort of early April Fool’s joke.

Unfortunately, it’s no joke, but it should be. Why, for half a million, you’d think the district could airlift two new brand new restrooms and set them down on the playgrounds, install the plumbing, etc. and still have money to burn. The whole new roof, including building in new substructure to get better elevation for a good portion, was only in the half million dollar range.

We’re not talking about reinventing the wheel here. Though one set of restrooms, on the north end, has some pretty bad plumbing problems with antiquated water pipes encased in cement, the other has already had its plumbing updated through a grant. That leaves purchasing new fixtures and bringing everything up to Americans with Disability Act (ADA) codes. The biggest problem seems to be making sure the doors are wide enough to allow wheelchair access. In the one set of bathrooms, on the south end, that will be harder because of the current layout. So, unless we are getting gold plated fixtures once used in the palaces of some Saudi princes, we’re not buying the estimated price tag.

The voters within the Oroville School District generously approved a special three-year $1.2 million capital improvement levy to replace the elementary roof, with the understanding that the left over funds would be used for needed projects like the restrooms. While the roof came well under the original estimate, the remaining funds need to be spent wisely to get as many needed improvements done as possible. One improvement that is in process right now is to the heating and cooling system. While it is relatively new, it still needed some updating to get to the point where some classrooms aren’t so warm that they have to open windows and doors to balance out the temperature. The HVAC upgrades won’t eat up the remaining funds, and district Business Manager Shay Shaw says there should be at least $400,000 left to do the restroom project. That’s too unpalatable a price for most of your average taxpayers to swallow. Board Chairman Rocky DeVon said it’s way too high and he wants to return some of the unused levy dollars to the public, rather than spend them all.

The bathrooms do need an upgrade – they’re basically the same as when Rocky and I were in school there sometime during the 20th century. On the north end they’re probably the same as when people our parents’ age went to school there. Most of us would be fine with spending all the money on legitimate projects at the elementary school. But whether we spend it all or return some to the public, what we do need to do is make sure we aren’t overspending on something that could be done for half the cost.

The board’s first step is to have an architect draw up plans for the restrooms and then call for bids. If the bids come in too high I suspect it will be back to the drawing board for everyone.