Air conditioning dominates list of LBUSD construction costs – Signal Tribune

A newly-audited report found that the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) spent $1.46 billion building and renovating schools during its July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 fiscal year. 

Most of that amount—nearly $466 million—went to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) projects, with another $328 million earmarked for new HVAC in the future, for a total of $794 million.

The district also spent more than $406 million on new construction and another nearly $268 million on modernizing and renovating existing schools. 

A LBUSD Citizens’ Oversight Committee (COC) audited report found no discrepancies in how the district spent its Measure E and Measure K bond funds last year for school infrastructure improvement. 

COC Chairperson Walter Larkins told the Board of Education on Wednesday, March 2, that he was “impressed” by the district’s record-keeping and budget balancing. 

Larkins noted that many LBUSD students returned from the “unprecedented shift” to online learning necessitated by the pandemic to newly renovated classrooms and other learning spaces last year.  

“The COC is proud to oversee a program that is helping build brighter futures,” Larkins said of the seven-member committee.

Bar chart showing LBUSD construction expenditures for its 2020-2021 fiscal year from LBUSD Citizens’ Oversight Committee’s annual report on district use of Measure E and Measure K bond funds. (Courtesy LBUSD)

HVAC was installed at more than 150 classrooms across five campuses during the last fiscal year, affecting 16,000 students, according to the COC report. The district completed HVAC and other renovation projects at Prisk, Fremont, Madison elementary and Cubberly K-8 schools last summer, and Wilson High School’s new HVAC system will be completed by June. 

A UC Davis report found that ventilation and air filtration improve not only student safety with regard to viruses, but also student performance by reducing pollutants such as carbon dioxide.

Other completed projects mentioned in the COC report include a new 50,000 square-foot classroom building and new sports track and field at Millikan High School, renovated auditorium and library at Jordan High School designed to “optimize” learning and upgraded auditorium and cafeteria at Stevenson Elementary School. 

Current construction includes a new 31,500 square-foot classroom building at Jordan High School, gymnasium upgrades at Lakewood High School, a new lunch shelter at Lowell Elementary School and HVAC and technology upgrades at several other schools, the report states.

Wilson High School’s ongoing $92 million renovations are taking into account its historically significant architecture, including restoring two original 1924 light poles in front of its “most distinctive” main building and enlarging several windows with the help of a specialist in wood finishes.

“Similar care went into Wilson’s auditorium restoration,” the COC reports. “The fully modernized building, completed in 2018, retained many of its original features while complying with modern accessibility and safety standards.”

Wilson High School renovations are funded by Measure E, a $1.5 billion bond measure approved by voters in 2016 and specifically designated for repairing school buildings, upgrading classroom technology, installing HVAC and improving recreational safety.  

Interior of Jordan High School’s library, renovated in January 2021 to feature flexible seating, laptop charging stations, and individual and collaborative learning spaces. (Courtesy LBUSD)

“The bond measure is subject to strict accountability requirements,” LBUSD states about Measure E. “No money can be spent on administrator salaries, and all funds must be used locally to improve neighborhood schools.”

LBUSD is similarly accountable to the COC on how it spends money from Measure K, a bond measure approved by voters in 2008. The $1.2 billion fund takes from property taxes to “build, renovate and improve” schools in “critical” need. Many of the district’s campuses are 60 to 70 years old. 

The district built Nelson Academy in 2012 and McBride High School in 2013 with Measure K funds, in addition to new construction at several existing schools, including renovating auditoriums and adding all-weather sports fields.

LBUSD also received matching funds of $33 million last year from California’s Proposition 51 bond measure for school repairs, which helped offset higher labor and materials costs, according to the COC. 

“These projects exemplify the 21st-century learning spaces needed to prepare our students for college and careers,” Larkins said.