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Facilities Committee split on renovation

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The YS Schools Facilities Committee continued to discuss potential options for renovation of the district’s public school buildings at its most recent meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5.

In December, Motz Engineering and Ruetschle Architects, the district’s consulting maintenance plan advisor and architect, laid out two potential options for the committee to consider.

One of those options, dubbed the “foundational plan,” includes addressing critical needs identified by the committee and by those who work in the schools, at an estimated cost of about $25.4 million. Another option to renovate both campuses to like-new conditions is estimated to cost about $50.6 million.

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At this month’s meeting, the committee diverged on how those options should be interpreted by the committee: Some ventured that multiple renovation options should be considered by the board; others suggested that only a full, like-new renovation would be sufficient to meet the needs of the schools.

A document submitted to the committee’s members in advance of the meeting — signed by committee Chair Judith Hempfling and committee building professionals Jerry Papania, David Roche, Michael Slaughter, Craig Conrad and Richard Zopf — suggested that the two options presented in December should be considered jumping-off points for the creation of several plans at differing price points to present to the school board for consideration, which Hempfling said has been part of the committee’s charge since its formation.

“And that hasn’t exactly happened,” Hempfling said.

Architect Mike Ruetschle, of Ruetschle Architects, agreed that the options presented in December were intended to serve as a basis for further discussion by the committee and later decision-making by the school board as it aims to place a levy on the ballot in November.

“The way this was budgeted was a way to feel out the foundational pieces and the additional pieces that can be added onto that to get to your total,” Ruetschle said.

The document also suggests that the committee should work to group identified improvements into three categories moving forward: “foundational” items laid out in the foundational plan; “enhancements,” which should be based on further needs of teachers; and “aspirational” items, defined as items not included in the renovation plans laid out thus far, but which could be considered.

“We know the foundational stuff is a priority,” Hempfling said. “If several things … get added [to the foundational plan], that would be the renovation plan, if that’s what the school board decides.”

Ruetschle added that new storm shelters, which were previously only part of the draft plan for a like-new renovation, should be added to the current foundational plan; the state had previously placed a moratorium on requiring upgraded storm shelters in any significant renovation to a school facility, but that moratorium expired Nov. 30, 2022. Upgraded storm shelters, he said, would cost around $1.7 million at Mills Lawn and around $2 million at the middle and high schools.

The committee’s building professionals also highlighted items that they believe could cost less than the estimates provided by Motz Engineering and structural engineering firm THP Limited. Committee member Papania said he and the other committee members who produced the document suggested further evaluations be done to verify potential savings, including a comprehensive roof evaluation, evaluation of the condition of hydronic heating piping and underground piping and a follow-up electrical evaluation.

The potential evaluations, according to the document, came after conversations with the maintenance plan advisor and a second assessment of the schools’ electrical systems performed by Dayton firm Bonham Electric, Inc. The potential evaluations are estimated to cost around $10,000, with the stated possibility of saving up to $8 million.

“We’re not saying that this is fact,” Papania said. “The point of this document is to identify areas where there are possible savings that can be attributed to the tune of $8 million, if there’s further investigation done to confirm.”

However, a second document — signed by the committee’s educational professionals, Superintendent Terri Holden, Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston, McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert, Treasurer Jacob McGrath, Mills Lawn teacher Kineta Sanford and band and orchestra teacher Brian Mayer — was submitted to the committee in response to the first, and was critical of some of what was presented in the former document.

The signatories of the second document wrote that they feel that grouping identified needs into categories of “foundational,” “enhancements” and “aspirational” gives the impression that any needs outside of those designated foundational are “extra.”  Referring to the document, Superintendent Holden said that the faculty and staff of the schools have already communicated their prioritized needs to the committee, and that all of those needs would only be addressed in a plan that would renovate both campuses to like-new conditions.

“How can we get close to meeting what we feel are our educational needs? They’re not enhancements, they’re not aspirations,” she said, later adding: “Why doesn’t the $50 million plan, the full renovation plan, go to the board?”

In addition, the second document opined that the suggestion of the potential for cost savings to be identified in further assessments disregards the assessments already made by Motz and THP, and prioritizes cost over educational adequacy.

“This is our one bite of the apple,” Holden said. “So is it about the money in the short-term, or is it about an investment in our children, in our community, in the long-term?”

Committee member Slaughter responded by saying that part of the committee’s charge is to find cost savings for the renovation plans and that the committee is meeting that charge by looking deeply at the cost estimates presented in December.

“If we don’t scrutinize it, we’re doing a disservice to the community,” Slaughter said.

In response, Treasurer McGrath said he thinks it would be premature for the district to undertake additional assessments for the purpose of cost-saving before the board has decided what project to pursue. The funds voted in on any large project levy, he added, should account for the maximum amount of funding a project might require.

“Those are things that you wait until a project is funded and decided on,” he said. “And when you get good news, it loosens up your budget a little bit. But if you get bad news, it’s good to have that money there for the bad news.”

Mills Lawn Principal Winston said she felt the committee was “talking in circles,” and that she believes the committee has, at this point, fulfilled its charge to determine potential costs.

“It sounds like we’re not really getting anywhere, and it might be time to let the board make the decision … [about what] price point they want to go with,” she said.

Committee member Scott Fife added that he believes there were multiple reasons why past levies in 2018 and 2021 failed at the polls, pointing to community surveys and letters to the editor in the YS News that included concerns about levy costs and ongoing maintenance of existing facilities, disfavor for the proposed K–12 campus and a perceived lack of transparency in the levy process, and that both the committee and the school board should take that into account moving forward.

“We’re doing no service to the Board of Education if we help them develop a plan that the voters won’t approve,” Fife said. “Whatever decision they make, I would like to think that it was a unanimous decision and that they pulled together on this.”

To view the Jan. 5 meeting in full, go online to youtu.be/d0XY81VPmw4. To view the documents discussed during the meeting, and the agendas for all Board of Education meetings, on BoardDocs, go to go.boarddocs.com/oh/yellowev/Board.nsf/Public.

Contact: chuck@ysnews.com

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