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School expansion, facility rehab, will pay for themselves

November 5, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council will consider funding a couple of hefty expenditures at its workshop meeting Monday.

The board is expected to discuss the issuance of $20 million in bonds, $7.5 million of which will be for additional expansion to the city-operated charter school system, plus a near $2 million expenditure to renovate the old city hall turned police station on Nicholas Parkway.

Both proposals make sense to us, and it's good to see some forward motion on the part of the city - especially when there's some cost savings rolled up in the expenditures.

We were among those who were a little hesitant when the city first proposed to operate its own mini school system to give Cape residents another public school option.

While we agreed the charter school concept offered advantages, we were concerned about a possible duplication of services with the School District of Lee County and the necessary startup costs.

After a slow start, however, the city of Cape Coral's charter school program proved popular among parents and today it has both a long waiting list -some 400 students - and four up-and-running schools that offer a unique public school education to children from kindergarten through high school.

The $20 million bond request will convert the short-term loans used to build the high school into long-term financing to be paid back with state and county per-student allocations (not property or city taxes). The bonds also will fund an additional expansion recently approved by council - 12 new classrooms to accommodate more students, a gymnasium that will be open to the public after school hours, and a covered area for outside play and athletics.

Again, the debt will be paid back through per-student allocations in much the same way the school district pays for its new facilities.

Given the student waiting list, the city believes the demand - and so the money - is there to pay for more classrooms and amenities.

We think they're right.

As for the renovation and refurbishment of the old city hall/turned police station/turned office space, the latest "recycling" proposal also makes sense, especially since it, like the charter school improvement plan, will pay for itself over time.

Currently, the old building, which would cost an estimated $500,000 or so to demolish, is almost empty, used by only 23 staffers.

Meanwhile, the city is leasing space for some public works functions, maintaining "cottages," or portables, across from city hall for other city staffers, and is in need of an environmental resources division lab, which previous cost estimates put at $2 million to $4 million to build.

Replacing the air conditioning and duct work on the old 45,600-square-foot facility, replacing the roof and most interior finishes and doing the renovation design work will cost an estimated $1.98 million - including the incorporation of the proposed lab facility - and negate the need to lease office space.

Once renovated, the building will house all of Public Works - an estimated 68 staffers - and will allow the city to shift staff now scattered around the city closer to their respective core operations.

Staff estimates the city will save $344,134 and earn its investment back in less than seven years.

That may not be a return on investment quite up to private sector standards but we'll take it as the project also will allow for the aforementioned operational efficiencies.

Councilmember Bill Diele sums it up succinctly: "A lot of savings will be generated."

We agree.

Council should give due consideration to long-term funding for its charter school expansion and to spending the $2 million to renovate the old public safety building.

Sometimes you do have to spend money to save some.

- Breeze editorial



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