Facilities listening sessions begin
- Published: February 7, 2023
The Board of Education held its first facilities listening session on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The purpose of the event was to present to community members potential plans for upgrading the district’s schools that have already been discussed over the last several months by the Facilities Committee — as well as plans that have not yet been discussed — and listen to community feedback on those plans.
School board President TJ Turner led the listening session — the first of four slated to be held through April as the board deliberates on choosing a plan for upgrading facilities to be placed before voters in November 2023.
“Having four months of discussing and deliberating here in front of [the public] and getting that community feedback, we can tailor those plans and hopefully come to a consensus by May,” Turner said.
Turner laid out some of the historical context surrounding the plans currently being considered by the board, including a 2017 assessment completed on local public school facilities by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC. That assessment led to a 2018 levy that would have funded a combination of new construction and renovation at the middle and high schools on East Enon Road for $18.5 million, with a possible 17% reimbursement from the state. A plan for Mills Lawn Elementary School was deferred to an undetermined time. The levy was voted down at the polls.
A second facilities assessment in 2019 conducted by architectural firm Fanning Howey concluded that the price of renovating the schools at both campuses versus constructing new facilities was similar. The OFCC offered a 26% reimbursement of building costs if a new, single-campus facility was constructed according to state guidelines, and a 2021 levy to fund a new, K–12 facility was placed on the ballot. The facility was slated to cost $35.5 million dollars before an eventual expected reimbursement from the OFCC of about $9.2 million; the levy was not approved by voters.
Architect Mike Ruetschle, whose firm, Ruetschle Architects, was contracted by the district to advise on the facilities planning process and to draft potential floor plans for renovating the schools, presented information on the potential renovation plans that have been discussed by the Facilities Committee thus far.
Those plans include one that would combine new construction and deep renovation at both campuses, restoring the facilities to like-new conditions, at a cost of about $50.6 million. A second plan, dubbed the “foundational plan,” would focus on critical needs identified by school administrators and staff, including a complete overhaul of heating and air conditioning, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, lighting and technology and the construction of new security vestibules and music rooms/storm shelters at both campuses, for an estimated cost of $28 million.
“So those are the price points … the committee is giving the board the freedom of range to then have further discussions about what a plan might look like,” Ruetschle said.
Facilities Committee member Jerry Papania also spoke on a third renovation plan, the “plus plan,” which was originally presented at the December school board meeting. That plan, which builds on the foundational plan, would include new flooring, finishings, ceilings and furniture in portions of Mills Lawn and Yellow Springs High School that would not be included in the foundational plan, as well as the demolition of the McKinney Middle School modular space known as “the shoebox” and the construction of five new classrooms. The estimated cost of the plus plan is $29.5 million.
Ruetschle, at the request of Turner, also presented an updated cost estimate for the 105,000-square-foot, K–12 facility drafted in 2021 considering inflation. The same facility that would have cost $35.5 million two years ago would now, he estimated, cost about $49 million. However, he said, if such a facility were built according to OFCC guidelines, the district would be eligible for a reimbursement of 27% of construction costs to equal about $13.3 million.
“I’m saying this confidently, but let me caveat this,” Ruetschle added. “The state is going to tell us what this plan costs, so we need to engage them in the process — they need to tell us what these numbers are.”
Ruetschle went on to say that, while he considers a single, K–12 campus to be “more efficient” than two campuses, he recommends that the board consider additional square footage if it intends to pursue a new, single campus.
“There’s just never enough space [in OFCC co-funded facilities] for teachers to teach their students in appropriate settings, so we need to account for that,” he said.
Though the OFCC would only co-fund a 105,000-square-foot new facility, additional square footage could be funded separately. Ruetschle recommended an additional 14,000 square feet be added to a potential single-campus plan, for an estimated total cost of $55.8 million.
Before moving the session to community comments, Turner presented one more option for the board and citizens to consider: a “hybrid” plan that would include building a new middle and high school at the current East Enon Road location and renovating Mills Lawn. In addition, the hybrid plan would include moving fifth- sixth-grade classes to the middle school and potentially including preschool classes at Mills Lawn. The new building at East Enon Road could still benefit from OFCC co-funding, he said, and added that he had spoken with representatives at the OFCC, who had presented the possibility that renovations at Mills Lawn might also be eligible for some co-funding.
Turner acknowledged that the hybrid plan will require more research and discussion. However, he said, he wanted to present a plan that might address many of the concerns community members have brought forward, including dual-campus facilities and a desire to “maximize that credit coming back from the state.”
“We recognize that this has been a polarizing debate in the community for several years, and we’re trying as best we can to provide educational adequacy for our children and, on top of that, to meet the demands of the community,” he said.
During the community feedback portion of the listening session, several community members spoke with interest regarding the hybrid plan, but noted that citizens will need more information on the plan and time to consider it.
“It’s hard to give feedback on that without having seen it [in advance],” Cindy Sieck said.
Abigail Cobb and George Bieri, who are married, both spoke in support of a new K–12 campus, with Cobb noting that she has been surprised about “resistance to having a single campus” among fellow voters.
“When you read about K–12, single-campus schools, it is exciting!” she said.
Several others spoke with concerns that some of the plans being considered might be too large a financial burden for the tax base. Laura Curliss suggested that the district speak with the county auditor about what the different plans would add to community members’ tax burdens, and Kathy Adams said she believes the foundational plan — the least expensive one being considered — may be the only one many voters will support.
Naomi Bongorno commented on an issue that has been discussed by several community members at past Facilities Committee meetings, but has not yet been discussed in depth by the district — the financial and emotional costs of displacing students during either a renovation or a new build — and added that she does not believe the foundational and plus plans are adequate to meet the needs of the district.
“Our kids have been displaced hugely over the last couple years, and it has had a really big effect on their mental health and their learning,” she said. “Asking them to be displaced more really, really concerns me, and I have to feel really good about the plan in order to sign them up to do that. … I’m very concerned about voting in a plan that only addresses half of the issue.”
Both Sieck and Michael Slaughter, the latter of whom is a member of the Facilities Committee, asked Treasurer Jay McGrath when and how any expected refund on a project co-funded by the OFCC would affect the voting populace. McGrath clarified that construction costs are funded “up-front,” with voters paying taxes at a rate consistent with the total cost of the bond before a rebate.
Approved rebates from the OFCC typically take about two years after the completion of construction to be returned to school districts, he said, after which a district has “options” about what to do with those rebated funds.
A district might decide to use the rebate to pay down the remaining debt on a bond, decreasing the tax rate for which voters are responsible for the duration of the bond. However, he added, if a project is funded with a combination of bond issue and income tax, as the 2021 levy was, a district might choose instead to keep the refund to use for district operations costs, or to “do a little bit of both.”
“And that’s something that is discussed when the time comes,” McGrath said. “It’s a discussion between the treasurer and the school board on what they want to do with those funds.”
The school board will hold its next listening session on Tuesday, Feb. 21. To view documents shared during the Jan. 24 listening session, go to bit.ly/3HMwwlk and click on “Meetings” at top right, then “2023” at left, then “Jan. 24, 2023.”
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