With the help of the Department of Defense, the Sierra Sands Unified School District will be modernizing Burroughs High School and building a new Murray Middle School campus to its west, right next door. The cost of the facilities is being covered through a new federal grant program and matching funds from the district, an 80-20 split with the feds footing most of the bill.
The Burroughs grant will total $31,909,274 with the grant's share at $25,527,419 and the district's match at $6,381,855. The grant for a new Murray will total $39,542,838 with the district's share at $7,908,568. The total of both projects is more than $71 million.
Superintendent Joanna Rummer said the hopes are that there will be matching funds from the state, but there is no guarantee. The district has the money to cover the matching funds if needed, Rummer said.
“We worked this out ahead of time,” Rummer explained. “I wasn't about to commit to something if we couldn't afford it.”
There are funds for facility maintenance and construction at the state level that may be freed up, and Sierra Sands is already on the waiting list to receive some of those funds if that money is released.
Rummer said she hopes the district will not have to borrow to cover the matching funds, but she explained that the decision of how to cover the matching funds ultimately lies with the district's Board of Education.
Rummer and Elaine Janson, recently retired district chief financial officer who is following the project through, explained that the grant has come at a fortuitous time. The district has just finished modernization projects of the elementary schools and repair of some of the half-century old infrastructure that was beginning to collapse. Rummer explained that most of the schools were built in the 1940s and 50s. The district had spent more than $4.5 million on renovating and replacing dilapidated infrastructure.
Janson said the district was initially kept in the dark about the grant, and that the Navy just told the district it was coming through for an inspection. Janson said there was nothing new or out of the ordinary for such a request.
"And then we got that phone call in September," Janson said.
Rummer said the Navy had come to inspect the buildings and explore the district as potential candidates for the new grant. The DoD's Office of Economic Adjustment called and asked the district to apply.
The grant is a new project by the DoD. Rummer explained that the DoD recognizes the importance of K-12 education and the military's current push toward threat force protection, also called workforce protection. The grant program was born out of those two concepts.
The grant program will span 10 years with $250 million worth of grants awarded per year and 12 projects per year. There are more than 170 school districts on military-controlled land nationwide, however some of the schools in some of these districts are new or are no longer used. Janson said that Murray came in fourth and Burroughs 10th on the first list of 12 schools the DoD chose. "We are thrilled this grant has been approved," Capt. Dennis Lazar, commanding officer of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake said of the project. "We are standing shoulder to shoulder with Sierra Sands to turn this grant opportunity into the best possible schools for our China Lake family."
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the changes at Burroughs will include a new look for the front entrance of Burroughs. The high school was originally located on base, and as a result, faced north toward the base. The modernization will allow for a chance to create a new entrance way and facade at the south end of the facility. A new administration building and small lecture hall will be built at the south end. There will be new lighting to replace the school's grounds that are dimly lit at night. There will be new cafeteria lines and a new concession stand and a much anticipated new restroom at the field. The gymnasium will see its floors refinished and new nets on the hoops.
Janson added that the school will have added accessibility for those with mobility issues.
"A 21st Century learning environment," is what Rummer said describes what will be created. The Burroughs project money should be received and work to begin in June 2014 and the shovel should hit the dirt for Murray in December 2014.
"It gives me goosebumps, thinking about what's ahead," Janson said, running her finger across her arm.
"This grant is a true blessing," a sentiment shared by Lazar, Rummer and Janson.