Facilities Committee | Upgrade costs still unclear
- Published: November 20, 2022
Since its formation in March, the School Facilities Committee has been meeting monthly, driving toward answering two main questions for both the district and the community: What is the current state of the district’s existing school buildings, and what might it cost to upgrade them to meet the needs of its students and employees with a permanent improvement plan?
Though the former of those questions has been explored in detail over the last several meetings, the latter remained unclear at the most recent meeting of the committee on Thursday, Nov. 3.
At the meeting, the committee heard a presentation from Timothy Bennett of THP Limited, a Cincinnati-based structural engineering firm working with Motz Engineering, the district’s contracted maintenance plan advisor, to assess the school facilities and make recommendations on needed repairs, upgrades and maintenance strategies.
Last month, Motz Engineering owner and Vice President Michael Murdock recommended significant upgrades and repairs for a number of the schools’ systems, including electrical, mechanical and heating and cooling. At this month’s meeting, Bennett made recommendations on upgrades to the schools’ roofs, doors, windows and exterior structures.
THP’s assessment identified much of the deterioration noted at the two campuses as “typical,” but Bennett pointed out some elements, including crumbling concrete, as being “safety issues.”
“I think those should be addressed as a priority,” he said, adding that he considered most of what was included in the report as “normal maintenance and restoration.”
Nevertheless, the assessments of both campuses entailed a list of a few dozen recommended upgrades, including repairs to bricks and masonry, replacing doors and windows and full roof replacements.
Committee members acknowledged that THP’s presentation represents Motz Engineering’s final contractual appearance before the committee in advance of a final report to the school board. However, Murdock informally offered to attend future meetings at no additional cost to the district.
“I’ll come back if you want me to come back,” he said.
THP’s full assessments on both campuses were available in print for those present at the meeting, and are available online on the district’s BoardDocs site at bit.ly/3zSnRcA, but Bennett did not finish giving a full presentation on both campuses as discussion turned to the potential costs of the upgrades outlined by Bennett and by Murdock in past meetings.
THP’s assessment included estimated costs of $3,357,000 and $5,981,000 for completing the recommended upgrades at Mills Lawn School and the McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High schools campus, respectively; the assessment noted that the estimates were based on construction and labor costs in 2022 and do not include adjustments for possible future inflation.
Bennett added that the estimate also does not include potential costs for installing fall barriers for the roofs at each campus, which would be needed if the roofs are replaced.
“What else is not included?” Superintendent Terri Holden asked, adding that the committee has ostensibly still not heard estimates on all aspects of the facilities’ needs.
“I guess we are trying to get some accurate understanding of what we’re looking at,” she said.
Thus far, in addition to those included in THP’s report, Motz Engineering has reported updated cost estimates for interior systems upgrades and repairs of $3,575,307 at the middle/high school, and $2,081,800 at Mills Lawn, with an added annual maintenance and repair estimate for upgraded systems of around $470,000 at both campuses.
In September, Ruetschle Architects, hired by the district to work in tandem with Motz Engineering to deliver a full set of recommendations to the committee, presented draft floor plans of possible renovations that might be undertaken at both campuses. The plans included areas that would be slated for demolition, new construction, deep renovations and targeted systems improvements.
Though the draft plans included a square footage total of 132,697 across both campuses if the renovations are undertaken — an increase to the schools’ current total square footage of 121,553 — the plans, which are still being reviewed by faculty and staff for input, don’t include a breakdown of what the renovations might cost in full.
In the past, Mike Ruetschle, of Ruetschle Architects, has cited an estimate of $450 per square foot for new construction and $300 per square foot for deep renovations. At the Nov. 7 meeting, he estimated that areas in the draft plans identified for targeted systems improvements would cost around $150 per square foot. No estimate has yet been given for demolition costs.
Ruetschle acknowledged that some of the costs outlined by Motz and THP could overlap with those included in his draft renovation plans, making a total cost estimate difficult to obtain without a proposed plan that encompasses all of the assessments thus far.
“For example, $300 [per square foot] on the deep renovation areas, in theory, would cover the roofing, the windows, a portion of this scope of work — we need to hammer it out,” he said.
Considering next steps
In line with the statement of its purpose, set down at its formation — “to fully understand whether a comprehensive permanent improvement plan could match our facilities with the school district’s educational needs in an economically and environmentally sustainable way” — the committee discussed determining how it will move forward with the information it has received in all of the presented assessments.
Holden spoke to the difficulty in prioritizing needs identified as critical and deciding whether those needs should be addressed all at once or in phases. She read aloud a portion of an email sent to her by Murdock, in which he wrote:
“There are many systems near failure, and Yellow Springs Schools needs to have a firm sense of what systems are going to cost the most in terms of time (inability to replace in a timely manner due to supply chain) and money, which is escalating due to inflation if you allow them to fail. … I believe you want to prioritize the choices you have to optimize the district’s money.”
“I guess I’m just a little confused,” Holden said. “Either all systems are at failure, or they’re not at failure.”
Murdock responded by saying that Motz’s assessments had pointed out systems that are at risk of failure within several years — such as electrical panels and boilers — in order to give the committee some feedback on which systems should be prioritized.
“There’s certain things you have a very short fuse on, and you need to address them by proactively doing summer projects … or you’re going to decide to do it when they fail,” he said.
Committee member David Roche said he believes a predetermined budget could help the group and the contracted firms come up with a timeline to present to the school board on how to address identified needs.
“If we don’t know how much money we have, we really don’t know how to spend it,” he said.
Holden responded that the district can “only operate within its debt capacity,” adding that Treasurer Jay McGrath will give a presentation on that capacity and expiring levies at the Nov. 10 meeting of the school board. A 1.2-mill permanent improvement levy passed in 2018, which generates about $150,000 for the schools annually, is set to expire in 2023. Two emergency levies of $1,060,000 and $915,000 will expire in 2025, and a $4.5 million bond issue passed in 2000 to pay for renovations and additions at both campuses will be paid down at the end of 2026.
However, Holden added that she believes a firmer idea of the cost of all recommended upgrades is needed before a budget is considered.
“The point may be that we can’t pay for it,” she said.
Middle and high school Principal Jack Hatert agreed; citing his experience with past committees in the lead-up to the proposed facilities levies that did not pass in 2017 and 2021, he said he considers the process to be more complex than what costs voters will support at the polls.
“I still wholeheartedly believe a new K–12 facility is what’s right for our kids,” he said. “If we don’t get to a spot where we look at total dollars, we’re asking our community potentially to support something that’s way more expensive long-term, and doesn’t solve our long-term needs.”
Committee co-chair and school board member Judith Hempfling asked Ruetschle to weigh in on the best step forward; Ruetschle suggested that the committee offer different potential price points for consideration, for which he and Murdock could create different draft plans using the information they’ve collected thus far, with a possible delivery at the committee’s December meeting. Holden responded that the school board should decide on those price points as part of the upcoming discussion of expiring levies at the Nov. 10 meeting.
Committee member Scott Fife said that, although the school board will make the final decisions concerning a potential levy to upgrade facilities, it will ultimately “be the voters who make the decision.”
“The school board is not likely to put something out there that they think the voters will not approve,” he said. “And we’re going to have to put together solid numbers that we can arm the board with to make that decision.”