Looking Closer At OPS Needs

When consultants recommended more than a billion dollars worth of improvements to the Omaha Public Schools, school board members knew the number wouldn't stand.

Now, they're hoping to ask voters for a bond worth $683 million.

WOWT 6 News took a closer look at what OPS says really needs to happen.

Overcrowding is just one problem. Portable classrooms at Norris Middle School show that the district has long been dealing with temporary fixes. Now, district-wide, they're looking for something more permanent.

Walking into the boiler room at Beveridge Magnet School in Omaha, is almost like going into an old museum. The boilers are the original system built with the school back in 1963. Mark Warneke, of the District's Operational Services, says they need a lot of maintenance. “You can get a lot smaller boilers to run the system at a lot less expense on utility bills. They're old. They're worn out," he says.

In addition, Beveridge uses window air conditioning units, there have been plumbing problems, and security isn't modernized either.

Classroom doors can only be locked from the outside. Warneke says that needs to change. “In case there's an intruder in the school, the teacher can lock the classroom from the inside," he says.

After trimming the fat of the original recommended plan, Beveridge is one of six schools the district says needs to be replaced.

“One of our highest priorities is of course, the safe and secure, then the technological needs, I think come next, but then there are mechanical systems that need to continue to function," says Toni Turnquist, Executive Director of District Operational Services.

The district says other schools like Joslyn Elementary, built in 1976, can stay, but still need improvement.

Joslyn was built in a time where large open rooms were used for team teaching. That idea is now out of date, and dividers stand in three sections of the school, creating classrooms, but with no doors. Warneke says this is an enormous security problem, but can be fixed. “We have outside entries into a large space that's got a lot of classrooms, and anybody can walk through," says Warneke.

OPS officials say if the funds to fix these problems don't make it on the ballot and pass, then the problems will only keep growing. "We're looking at trying to tread water. We haven't been able to do some major things for a decade and a half, and we feel it is the responsible thing to do on behalf of our students and our community, to look at these things now," Turnquist says.

On August 18th, the school board will vote on whether or not to put it on the ballot for a people's vote.

To make it on the ballot, the decision has to be made by August 29th.


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