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‘The kids deserve better,’ Sisolak says of outmoded CCSD school

There’s a laundry list of updates needed at Robison Middle School, established in Las Vegas in 1973 — the same year the original World Trade Center in New York City and the former Sears Tower in Chicago made their debuts.

Desks in the circular science classrooms offer subpar views of the teacher, and there’s no performance space large enough for the school’s new mariachi program.

Other needed fixes are more cosmetic, like a golf-ball-sized dent in one lavender wall of a classroom that caught the eye of Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday

“The kids deserve better than that,” he said during a tour of the school with Clark County School District officials highlighting a new law that will provide billions in additional revenue for the construction and maintenance of state schools.

Robison is one of 33 aging CCSD schools scheduled to be replaced under the new law, which again extends the district’s ability to issue general obligation bonds without voter approval through 2035. A similar 2015 law extended the life of the original 1997 bond authorization for an additional decade.

With the forecast $2.9 billion in revenue, the district also expects to build 13 new schools and make “countless other renovations and replacements,” according to representatives.

And school districts can use any excess revenue to fund “pay-as-you-go” construction projects.

But the money still falls short of the district’s estimated $10.8 billion in capital improvement needs. Around half that sum represents modernization costs, according to the district’s 2015 Capital Improvement Plan.

Projected needs over the next 10 years include $1 billion for new schools and nearly $2 billion for replacement schools, according to documents submitted in support of the bill.

The estimated total for the Robison project is $85 million.

The school’s circular science classrooms are bisected by a pole, giving each student a different and sometimes obstructed view of the teacher. They are also windowless, which is worse for students, said Jeff Wagner, the district’s chief facilities officer.

“A lot has changed since the ’70s in terms of how we deliver education,” Wagner said.

Principal ImmerLiza Ravalo also described the school’s amphitheater lecture halls as “old school.”

“We’ll be able to do more with the new building,” Ravalo said.

Robison students will be able to remain on their campus as construction begins on a new building on the school’s existing field space. Once the new building is complete, the old building will be demolished and the open space redesigned.

Timeline questioned

With a request for architectural proposals out now, Wagner said he expects a design for the new Robison campus to be complete in 18 to 24 months. This all-new prototype will also be used at eight other schools.

It is tagged as a “future project” in Bond Oversight Committee documents, with no timeline of its full completion available. Wagner said the district is still spending the final dollars of its previous bond on in-progress projects.

“What this will allow us to do is start the program much sooner,” Wagner said of the additional revenue. “We’ll be ramping more projects up.”

But Sisolak took issue with the projected timeline of the Robison design, saying it is “not fast enough.”

He said he wanted to see the district spending 2021 money, not 2015 money, adding that neighborhoods deserved better schools sooner than a decade down the line. Delays also have the potential to drive construction costs up, he noted.

“They designed the stadium in a third of that time,” Sisolak said, referring to Allegiant Stadium. “They designed Resorts World in less time.”

A statement from the district after the event noted the timing of the funding was subject to “revenues generated primarily through property taxes.”

“We will accelerate district plans so that when funds are received they are immediately used to break ground on shovel ready projects to make building improvements to benefit students,” the statement said.

Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district began expediting its processes once the legislation was approved and called the improvements critical to reducing the district’s large class sizes.

“All our children deserve to sit in a 21st century classroom,” Jara said.

Speaking at the briefing after the tour, state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro also commented on the urgent need for capital improvement, noting that the school looked exactly like the one she had attended.

It was also a trip down memory lane for State Senator Mo Denis, who attended Van Tobel Middle School — another twin of Robison.

Capital improvement goes hand in hand with the state’s new pupil-centered funding plan, he observed.

“Students have to have a place to sit, a place for a teacher to teach,” he said.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-028 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.