YS Schools facilities— New report, familiar concerns
- Published: May 30, 2019
Local school buildings are in immediate need of upgrades.
That was the paraphrased conclusion Wednesday, May 15, when representatives of the architectural engineering firm hired by Yellow Springs Schools to conduct an independent assessment of district facilities presented their findings to a joint meeting of the school board and the recently formed facilities task force.
And the suggested approach — at least in terms of the middle/high school campus — looked a lot like the proposal that district voters soundly rejected when the related levy appeared on the ballot last May.
Specifically, they suggested tearing down three areas — the supposedly temporary 1988 modular addition, known as “the shoebox,” the school’s three-story classroom wing and the music room, commonly called “the spaceship.” They then offered a variety of possible configurations for replacing those spaces, either all at once or in phases, comparing the costs to building new.
At Mills Lawn, they suggested a range of changes, including the possibility of tearing out several areas and replacing the spaces with new additions, also comparing the costs to building a new school.
The new review was prompted by the levy defeat last year and was meant to serve as a second opinion to a 2017 assessment by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, the findings of which had raised some concerns in the community about the state commission’s methodology and conclusions.
For the second assessment, the school district hired the firm Fanning Howey. Founded in 1961 in Celina, Ohio, and now with additional offices in Columbus and Indianapolis, the company specializes in educational engineering and design, according to its website.
Last June representatives of the Oakwood-based engineering firm Shell & Mayer Associates, Inc. found the high school/middle school buildings to be structurally sound. They did not conduct an analysis of the building’s features.
Rodney Wiford and Steve Wilczynski, of Fanning Howey, on May 15, laid out their company’s findings from both a physical and an educational viewpoint. Wiford focused on the physical and Wilczynski on the educational.
School board and task force members asked some questions along the way, but the meeting time was devoted primarily to the firm’s 77-slide PowerPoint presentation. The facilities task force plans to discuss the assessment results at its next meeting, set for Wednesday, May 22.
Looking at each of the two campuses, the assessment focused on five “key areas” — building structure, HVAC/plumbing, electrical, technology and the property site.
At the high/middle school, the building was divided into six subgroups: the “shoebox;” the building “envelope,” including walls, windows and doors; the interior; accessibility; hazardous materials; and furnishings.
At Mills Lawn, the building was divided into five subgroups: the envelope, the interior, accessibility, hazardous materials and furnishings.
The high/middle school building
The assessment presentation on the high/middle school building began with “the shoebox.” Concerns with the modular unit, which houses middle school classrooms, included its age (31 years), internal air quality and the wooden structure of the crawlspace.
Wiford noted that the Modular Building Institute, or MBI, recommends that the use of modular units be limited to five years. Air quality is of concern because such units generally do not have good or efficient air systems, giving rise to the possibility of mold growth, Wiford said.
He also cited poor acoustics as an issue in modular spaces.
Asked by task force member Chad Runyon if the space might be repurposed to be used for storage, which students, teachers and staff have identified as a need in the school, Wiford said he saw no reason why not.
Pressed by task force member Benji Maruyama, a former school board president, whether the area was on the verge of falling apart, Wiford said no, but air quality remains an issue of concern.
External areas of note in the rest of the building included the roof, which is due for replacing, and a variety of wall damage, such as cracks and holes.
Wiford attributed some of the external problems to poor maintenance and some to expansion and contraction from weather, noting that the issues are not necessarily structural, but do open the building to the elements and further weather-related damage.
Interior and accessibility issues noted by the assessment include the need for more space; an insufficient kitchen and food serving area; ceiling leaks (that could be from the roof or poor plumbing); code violations in stairwells; exposed wiring; and doors that are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act, or ADA.
As for hazardous materials, Wiford noted that the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, or AHERA, requires that school districts inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material every three years and that they then take action to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards.
He also verified that asbestos is not an active hazard unless someone disturbs it by drilling, grinding or sanding or uncovers it with the removal of containing material.
The anticipated costs to remediate the different-aged sections of the building for asbestos — if those areas were to be remodeled — is $300,000-plus for the original 1963 wing, $80,000-plus for the 1988 modular unit and $40,000-plus for the 2002 addition and renovation, Wiford said.
Items of note pertaining to HVAC, plumbing, electrical and technology include the absence of a sprinkler system (not required by the building code), the observation that most of the plumbing system and the HVAC systems are beyond their “useful life,” a functional but outdated fire alarm system, fluorescent lighting in an era when LED is becoming the standard and outdated paging, clock, telephone and classroom sound and display systems.
The firm’s site visit followed some heavy area rains, and high water had left the driveway edge indistinguishable from the sidewalk, which the assessment noted is another problem.
Mills Lawn building
Like the high/middle school, the “building envelope” — including outside walls, windows and roof — at the elementary school shows wear and age damage. In addition, older windows are negatively affecting the building’s energy efficiency, the assessment found.
In terms of accessibility, bathrooms, steps and cabinets in the hallway are not ADA compliant. Reading lofts in some of the primary classrooms also are not accessible and may not meet fire marshal approval, Wiford said.
The AHERA (asbestos-related) three-year re-inspection report put remediation costs at $220,000 or more for the original 1952 part of the school; $105,000-plus for the 1957 addition and $95,000-plus for the 2002 addition.
Also similar to the high/middle school, the elementary school has no sprinkler system, and the plumbing and HVAC systems have outlived their “useful life,” Fanning Howey concluded.
The assessment found the fire alarm functional, but outdated; concluded that lighting, including emergency and exit lights, should be upgraded to LED; and suggested that receptacles and switches throughout the building are due for replacement.
The paging system is so old that the manufacturer is no longer in business, Wiford said.
Fanning Howey recommends replacing the paging, clock and telephone systems. What’s more, the classroom cabling, display and sound systems need replacing, according to the firm’s report.
The school site also suffers from an “inadequate student drop-off/pick-up” area, drainage issues that cause standing water on the property and the need for better protection from falls at the playground equipment.
Cost of renovating vs. building new
The cost to renovate everything identified by the assessment as needing repair or replacement comes to $19,798,360 at the high/middle school and $11,784,798 at Mills Lawn, according to Fanning Howey’s figures.
The cost to build new, at the same square footage for each building (74,229 square feet at the high/middle school and 47,324 at Mills Lawn) would be $19,192,650 for the high/middle school and $12,242,246 for Mills Lawn, Wiford projected, adding that replacement costs do not include the cost of demolishing the current structures. He did not have figures for that possibility.
He noted that the general rule of thumb within the industry suggests that districts consider building new when renovation costs exceed two-thirds of the cost of new construction.
In addition to identifying areas of need and concern within the school, Fanning Howey also categorized them according to whether they were “critical,” a district “priority,” or could be “deferred.”
The purpose was to allow the district to consider approaching the work in phases if it chose.
Critical needs were identified as “life safety, code compliance, technology [and] security.”
Priority items were listed as “infrastructure, maintenance, roofs, envelope.”
And aspects that might be deferred are “finishes, furnishing, fixtures.”
Breaking down the costs for a phased approach, Fanning Howey estimated the critical cost for the high/middle school at $5,899,193 and $2,384,388 at Mills Lawn, for a total critical repair price tag of $8,283,581.
The costs for priority items come to $9,764,642 at the high/middle school and $6,337,551 at Mills Lawn, for a total of $16,102,193.
And deferred item costs would be $4,134,525 at the high/middle school and $3,062,859 at Mills Lawn, for a total of $7,197,384.
The overall total using this phased approach would be $31,583,158, according to Fanning Howey’s calculations.
Task force and board members responded to the numbers with questions which were compiled by task force facilitator Mel Marsh and answered by Wiford.
• Is “the shoebox” considered critical?
• What is the expected lifetime of renovation?
The same as a new building.
• Is there a rule of thumb concerning the cost of ongoing maintenance?
Fanning Howey could develop something.
• Should we consider the energy inefficiency of the buildings and the payback of potential energy savings?
• What is the suggested timing of the phases?
Depends on how long you want to live with the problems. Critical proojects might need to be dealt with in the next one to three years.
• When should our maintenance costs cause us to consider a new build — like buying a new car when car repairs get too high?
A new building will solve a lot of problems that renovation will not address.
• Do we increase costs by phasing?
Probably yes. It might be higher costs at a later time, and you might end up doing something twice if you don’t plan well.
Taking into consideration the educational needs of the local school buildings adds another, but vital, dimension to the facilities conversation, Fanning Howey’s Steve Wilczynski said. But an improved learning environment is harder to quantify than tabulating renovation and/or construction costs.
Educational considerations include curricular needs, such as Project-based Learning, or PBL, group work, co-teaching and different learning modalities.
At the high/middle school, he suggested investing no renovation dollars in the “shoebox” and simply “consider demolition and a rebuild.”
That said, he noted that classrooms in the three-story classroom wing might be reconfigured, if the district wanted, as the floors have no load-bearing interior walls.
But from an observational standpoint, Wilczynski said that the building has an industrial feel, looks dated and is uninspiring.
“It does not portray the image” a school wants, he said.
He also pointed out that moving through the school is disjointed and convoluted, a problem that is difficult to address without major restructuring.
Additional areas of concern are the entrance, which he said was uninspiring and difficult to locate, and insufficient building security.
He also noted several classrooms with accessibility issues and inefficient arrangements.
Mills Lawn had similar issues — a long circulation path and disconnect between areas of the building, an unclear and poorly secured entrance, some inaccessible areas and a lack of space for individual and small group work.
In the school’s favor, he identified a strong sense of pride at Mills Lawn, and lauded the abundance of artwork, murals and creative work on display.
Addressing a variety of possible approaches for addressing areas of concern as “what ifs,” Wilczynski presented a series of options with their connected price tag. He also noted, however, that some of the ideas would not be possible in isolation, so that the total cost for certain projects would end up being higher than indicated.
Some of the ideas for the high/middle school include (all cost amounts are approximate):
• Partial demolition: Tearing down the three-story wing, the shoebox and the music wing; $650,000.
• Convert gymnasium into central commons, dining and performing arts; convert art rooms into larger functional kitchen: $2.3 million.
• Convert kitchen into new administrative office space and enlarge to create secure office and new building entrance and image: $650,000.
• Build new gymnasium that can connect to new central commons: $3 million.
• Build new middle school learning community with integrated space for collaboration and PBL: $3.9 million.
• Build new high school as well as middle school learning communities with integrated space for collaboration and PBL: $7 million.
• Build new art and music addition: $2 million.
All the above work combined would come to a total estimated $19 million, Wilczynski said. An alternative idea that features partial demolition and additions to convert the high/middle school to a K–12 facility would come to about $26 million.
Possible ideas for Mills Lawn include:
• Convert the library/computer space to a multi-use project lab: $250,000.
• Build a new student dining/commons space to free up the gymnasium for PE and performing arts: $1.3 million.
• Build a small classroom addition and convert existing classroom space to collaboration and project space: $1 million.
• Demolish and rebuild original 1952 section: $7 million.
• Demolish 1952 original section and build new addition: $7 million.
• Add grades 7–12 to Mills Lawn site as either a standalone or connected facility: $19.9 million.
Comparison to OFCC assessment
In completing their work, the assessors for Fanning Howey did not review the 2017 OFCC assessment nor the district’s proposed plan for a combined rebuild/renovate project at the high/middle school designed by Mike Ruetschle of Ruetschle Architects. The district wanted them to approach the project with fresh eyes, Superintendent Mario Basora said during the May 15 meeting.
The OFCC’s report recommended replacing roofing, heating and electrical systems, plumbing and fixtures, at a cost of $15 million to renovate and $17 million to build new at the high/middle school and $10.02 million to renovate and $10.4 million to replace at Mills Lawn.
The state commission’s assessment recommended that the district build new, as the cost differences between repairing and replacement were considered so close.
In response to community voices calling for a phased approach to upgrading facilities, the district proposed a rebuild/renovate project at the high/middle school, carrying an $18.5 million price tag, with a separate, undetermined plan for Mills Lawn deferred to an unstated future date.
Ruestschle, who is an ex-officio member of the new facilities task force, noted that the higher costs listed by Fanning Howey makes sense given that two years have past since the OFCC assessment was completed, and prices have gone up.
The OFCC report was made without charge to the district; Yellow Springs paid $33,000 to Fanning Howey for its work, according to Basora earlier this year.
The next steps for the facilities task force is to discuss members’ response to Fanning Howey’s report.
Facilitator Marsh said in an email this week that the task force wants to understand the identified needs as well as the financial intricacies involved in order to begin holding public forums for the community. The goal is “to understand the community’s perspective on what they think the schools should do to address the problems and aspirations.”
The task force has made a vocal commitment as well to be not only transparent in their work, but also proactive, by going out into the community with information and questions.
After the May 22 meeting, the group has another meeting planned the following Wednesday, May 29. The public is invited to attend as observers, with the expectation that a time for comments will occasionally be offered.