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Yellow Springs School Board

Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Middle School as it appeared in late September 2021. (Drone photo by Bryan Cady)

School facilities improvement process begins

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At its Dec. 14 regular meeting, the Yellow Springs Board of Education took its first step toward realizing the district school facilities improvements that were approved by voters last month.

The board approved a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for an architect to design the combination of renovation and new construction at the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

The RFQ will gather design qualifications from interested architects, after which the district will negotiate with preferred candidates on cost and timeline.

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The facilities upgrades are estimated to be completed by summer 2026, ahead of the 2026–27 school year, according to Ben Hyden, of Bricker & Graydon (formerly Bricker & Eckler), the district’s legal counsel firm.

Hyden spoke at the meeting on the process of beginning and overseeing construction of the upcoming facilities project.

He presented a number of oversight models available to the district for the completion of a large-scale construction project, including the district itself managing contractors or employing a single party to both design and build, but recommended the district employ both an architect and a construction manager at risk, or CMR.

Though Hyden noted that employing both an architect and a CMR would be costlier than the district overseeing construction itself, he said a major benefit of the model is that a construction manager would work closely with an architect to ensure construction stays on design and schedule.

Additionally, the construction manager, rather than the district, would be responsible for hiring and managing construction subcontractors, and would thus assume the risk if work is not completed on schedule or if there are construction issues. Hyden also said the CMR model is preferred by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, which will require some design specifics and offer a rebate on a portion of the facilities upgrades project.

“[CMR] is really the gold standard for school construction — for any big project any government entity builds now in Ohio,” Hyden said.

He added that, with both an architect and a CMR at the helm and involved in preconstruction data-collecting, a large construction project is less likely to encounter design issues or discrepancies down the line, as both architect and CMR will be very familiar with the facility being renovated.

“You’re going to want the CMR, during design, walking these hallways and looking for things that they can foresee to get them in the plan,” he said. “You don’t want to open a wall up and find out it’s the structural center of the building and have to redesign the wall.”

The preconstruction design process, which the district will enter as soon as it contracts with an architect and a CMR, begins with a broad space design to lay out desired construction elements, followed by a three-dimensional schematic design to define the project’s overall character. Next, the design will be refined, with specific designs of spaces, systems and finishes, and will be followed by the creation of construction documents, which will describe the project in detail and serve as a pricing basis.

Hyden laid out a timetable for the facilities project, noting that the design process will take 12 months, culminating in early 2025 with the beginning of construction, which is estimated to take 17 months.

Assuming no significant delays in design or construction, the project should be completed by July 2026, Hyden said. He emphasized the importance of timeliness during pre-construction phases, during which the board will discuss and approve each design milestone at school board meetings.

“If you push one thing out, all the other stuff gets pushed out a month, because the school board only meets every month,” he said.

Board member Scott Fife commented that the board has committed to collaborating with the community on some design features.

“Just to make it crystal clear here, the time that [collaboration] has to happen is basically in the next three months,” Fife said. “Is that correct?”

Hyden confirmed that community collaboration should take place before and/or during the initial, broad space design phase.

“There will be dates and times for updates as you go, but any community input has to happen now,” he said.

Legislative updates

In her monthly legislative report, Board President Dorothée Bouquet called attention to four bills that have either passed or are being considered by Ohio legislators and will impact school districts and students if enacted.

House Bill 68 — an Ohio Republican-backed bill that would deny gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth and bar transgender athletes from taking part in women’s sports — passed in the Ohio Senate on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

The bill has since been delivered to the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine, who must either sign or veto the bill within 10 business days of receipt, putting the deadline for a decision around Christmas.

“This [bill] would impact children in our community,” Bouquet said. “I urge everybody to contact our governor and ask him to veto HB 68.”

Bouquet next spoke on House Bill 8, which aims to put tight restrictions on what school districts can teach with regard to gender and sexuality and would force districts to notify parents if a student is questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation. Bouquet again urged local residents to reach out to legislators and speak out against the proposed legislation, which received public testimony in a Senate hearing last week.

Bouquet also encouraged folks to show support for House Bill 171, which would update K–12 social studies curricula to better represent the “migration journeys, experiences and societal contributions” of a wider range of American cultural communities. The bill includes  African American; Asian American and Pacific Islander; Arab, African and North African immigrant, refugee and asylee; Appalachian; Jewish; Latin American and Native American communities in its language.

Also discussed was House Bill 187, which was passed by the Ohio Senate in early December. As the News reported in November, the bill was originally introduced to ease the tax effects of rising property values for Ohioans following reappraisals around the state this year. Now, however, the bill will focus exclusively on providing three-year expanded property tax exemptions for low-income seniors, residents with disabilities and surviving spouses of public safety officers.

School districts will feel an impact from the bill’s passage, too; because most Ohio schools are funded largely by property tax levies, and not by the state, they rely on rising property tax values to keep up with rising operations costs. HB 187 will likely result in the loss of $97 million of expected school district revenue over three years statewide, according to a release from the Ohio Education Association. The bill allows for school districts to be reimbursed up to 50% of that lost revenue.

“So that means school districts are going to be left dealing with a cut,” Bouquet said.

District Treasurer Jacob McGrath said it’s unclear at this time what the revenue cost will be to local schools — but it’s clear the bill will “negatively impact” the district.

“We wouldn’t know until July or August [of 2024],” he said. “County auditors are trying to figure out what the tax bills should be next year, and the state is still playing with what the tax bills will be next year.”

Exiting board members recognized

The Dec. 14 meeting was the last for two board members: Luisa Bieri Rios and Scott Fife. Both board members were chosen to replace previous members who left their terms early.

Bieri Rios served for two years, filling the remaining term of former board member Sylvia Ellison; Fife served for four months, replacing former Board President TJ Turner, who vacated his seat in August following a military deployment.

Bieri Rios, Fife and Turner were recognized for their terms of service during the meeting, though Turner was not present.

Superintendent Terri Holden thanked all three for their service to the board, citing their work in developing both a facilities upgrades plan to place before voters and a strategic plan for the district.

“Being a school board member is a true act of service, many times it is also a thankless job,” Holden said. “As board members, you have spent an amazing number of hours grappling with issues the district faces and working to find a way forward. … It has been my absolute pleasure to work with all of you.”

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