Palm Beach County schools have $1.4 billion in building projects it can't fund

Some public schools are moren than 40 years old

WEST PALM BEACH, fla. - The Palm Beach County School District has about $1.4 billion in repairs and renovations it wants to make to schools that it cannot afford for the next 10 years, a top district official told the school board today.

"If we cannot fund these projects, we have to realize there are consequences," said Joe Sanches, chief of support operations.

More than half the $1.4 billion - $965 million - would go either to renovate or replace older schools such as Wynnebrook Elementary in West Palm Beach and Addison Mizner Elementary in Boca Raton. Some are more than 40 years old, Sanches said.

The district also needs to spend about $25 million to make schools compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates access to buildings for people with handicaps, Sanches said.

Also on the list are $10 million for a new transportation compound on Belvedere Road to relieve crowding at the Royal Palm Beach bus compound and millions more to do a "boatload" of maintenance, Sanches said.

"We have a tremendous amount of needs," he said.

About 99 percent of these projects are unfunded. The district has borrowed so much money over the last 10 years to build new schools that it probably could not use bonds to borrow any more money for the projects until 2023, Sanches said.

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said the district should try to renegotiate its bonds with Citibank to obtain a lower interest rate. That could allow it to regain some borrowing power, he said.

Other board members did not offer suggestions on how to come up with the $1.4 billion .

Even though the district can't afford the projects, it needs to do them, Sanches told the board.

If the district does nothing, older schools will start to crumble and systems in the schools will start to fail, he said. If the district has to replace things like roofs or elevators on an emergency basis it could cost the district even more, he said.

Sanches said the district also needs to do a better job of managing public expectations and making residents understand that there is no money. He said he still receives requests from residents who expect new schools.