A first look at the cost of the next twenty years for Omaha Public Schools

The public will get a first look at Omaha Public Schools' blueprint for the next two decades Monday.
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 10:21 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If you could map out your fiscal responsibilities for the next 20 years, how much would you need?

In the case of Omaha Public Schools, we’re talking $2.2 billion.

“I hope that we can focus on the positives, we can focus on what an amazing job we’re already doing, but also keep in mind that when we see a number that could be you know, fairly shocking, that we think that this is not all 2023 dollars,” OPS executive director of facilities Lenora Isom said. “This is 2033 dollars and 2043 dollars.”

Which is why they’re starting on the road map now.

“Districts I’ve had experience witnessing or being involved in, plan for three to five years,” OPS chief of operations and talent services Charles Wakefield said. “We’re planning for 20 years, planning through multiple potential leaders in buildings, planning across board election cycles, everything so we can create a standard plan that projects into that future so they’re able to maintain those outstanding facilities for our students.”

Over a year and a half, OPS contractors gathered info at each of the district’s 108 buildings.

“We had teams walk every one of our schools,” Wakefield said. “They took pictures and took notes on every piece of equipment from a rooftop air conditioning unit to a window to the roof itself to the fixtures and all the bathrooms and noted lifespan and all that is documented for us, and that’s going to help us as we adapt our buildings for the future, and is going to help us as we maintain our buildings for the future.”

Monday at a 6:00 p.m. OPS workshop, the board will get a first chance to review and discuss the still incomplete road map, broken into facilities condition assessments, educational adequacy assessments, and a master vision for high schools. The information is available to the public now on the OPS website.

“It’s a road map, but it’s also I would say written in pencil because we know we’re gonna have to evolve and adapt and we don’t wanna be building something five years from now that we designed now that’s already it’s already out of date,” Isom said. “We do have quite a few buildings within the district that mean a lot to a lot of people in our community, and we always have to be thoughtful and careful about that. Although, we know that certain changes, especially HVAC, plumbing, et cetera always need to be upgraded in a thoughtful manner because as all these systems work with each other or if they don’t work with each other that can lead to a quicker sort of deterioration of those buildings that we want to preserve.”

To put the span of this information in perspective, some of the students who will attend Bluestem Middle School when it opens in the fall will be the parents of students going to school here in two decades. So whatever comes of these efforts now will impact generations in many ways.

“The initial phase, the technical assessment really went through and looked at all the bits and parts of our building, identified condition the age, and when we projected it, it would need to be replaced or repaired and what that would cost,” Wakefield said. “Then it really becomes a budget and planning exercise. What can we budget for? Just like a homeowner, you know your heater has a lifespan you know, eventually, it will have to be replaced, and most homeowners try to plan for that ahead of time.”

Both Wakefield and Isom underscore this is preliminary information. The public is invited to Monday night’s introduction of the information.

“This is an early step, this plan is not done,” Wakefield said. “And this is a comprehensive plan. This is large. It’s taken us 18 months so far to do this, and we still have some work to do. And I wanna really emphasize this is for the next two decades, and we’re really thinking it in 20-year chunks. So when the board sees this, when the community sees this, this is not something we’re planning on doing tomorrow or next year or even in a five-year cycle.”