BENSON — A new seven-foot wrought-iron fence is being constructed around the Benson Unified School District campus.
The fencing is one of three projects funded through a $3 million voter-approved bond in 2018, with the fence representing the bond’s final project.
Biddel and Brown Fence Co. was contracted to construct the fence.
“There were three critical needs the district identified that the bond was used for,” said District Superintendent Micah Mortensen. “Those areas are transportation, technology and safety and security. The fence is part of the safety and security side of the project, and represents the third phase of our bond initiative.”
About $2 million went into transportation, which allowed the district to purchase new school buses, something Mortensen said was desperately needed.
“Our fleet was on its last leg. With the bond money, we purchased 13 buses and a white fleet of four mini buses and two Ford Explorers,” Mortensen said.
About $800,000 was spent on safety and security, to include the fence, state-of-the-art security cameras and a new intercom system.
“We spent about $100,000 on technology, which was perfect timing for students and teachers because when COVID hit, we had to distribute Chromebooks to every student,” Mortensen said. “Some of those Chromebooks were purchased with our bond dollars.”
“We focused on things that we felt were at a critical need level.”
Replacing worn-out buses was one of the district’s greatest needs.
“We were at the point with our buses that we weren’t going to be able to transport people any more,” he said. “Our entire fleet was so old, the buses were continuously requiring repairs. They were on their last leg.”
Mortensen said the district turned to the community with its list of critical needs and received its support.
“Thankfully, we have a wonderful community that continues to support our schools,” he said. “When you turn to the community for bond support, it’s about a relationship and building trust,” he said.
“When you stand in front of the community say we’re going to do ‘x, y and z,’ and do exactly what you say you’re going to do, it builds confidence and trust.”
While on a tour of the campus where the fence was being installed, Mortensen showed wide open areas, allowing easy access to the high school.
After the fence is completed and the security system installed, the entire campus will be secure, Mortensen said.
Sections of four-foot fencing that are deemed too short for Benson School District’s campus are being removed to make way for the new fence.
“We’re going to be donating some of the old fencing to the Pomerene School District,” Mortensen said.
While touring the transportation department, Mortensen talked about the 13 new buses, as well as the district’s new white fleet.
All the buses are equipped with special safety features and cameras with recording systems.
“We were in a bad, bad place with our former fleet,” said Steve Nastasio, the district’s lead mechanic. Nastasio spoke about some of the challenges he faced trying to keep the buses running.
“Once a bus gets old and starts to get oil leaks, you fix one leak, and about a week later it comes in with another leak in a different place. The transmissions start to leak, the differentials and seals start to go bad and they contaminate the brake shoes. About every nine months to a year, I had to change all the windows and front wheels.”
The list goes on and on.
“I was quarantined to that (mechanic’s) pit five days a week, eight hours a day, just doing triage to keep the fleet alive,” he said. “I now have time to work on different projects that I’ve been dying to do. I’m very grateful for the new fleet.
“Instead of having to do repairs every day, now I’m able to service the vehicles and provide general maintenance,” said Nastasio, a 15-year school district employee.
The buses, which were purchased about 18 months ago, were acquired in phases of three, six and four.
Benson School District board member Vicky Konrad sat in on the community meetings for the fencing project.
“I’m very excited that the new fencing is being installed,” she said. “Educating children in a safe environment has always been important to me.
“When it comes to the safety and lives of our children, we can never be too careful. Their protection is an integral part of providing quality education.”
Konrad also praised the community for supporting the bond.
“I was thrilled with the passage of the bond,” she said. “The support the district receives from the community shows how much Benson cares about the education of our children.”