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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)

Architect firm chosen for school facilities project

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At its first meeting of the new year Jan. 11, the Board of Education completed first-of-year business by swearing in two new board members, Amy Cordova Bailey and Rebecca Potter, who were elected last November. Following their swearings-in, the members of the board elected board member Judith Hempfling as president and Potter as vice president.

At the top of the regular meeting, the new board acknowledged a letter it had received from a group of 31 local residents, which thanked the district for its quick response to a gas leak that occurred at the high school Friday, Jan. 5. Students were evacuated and their guardians notified within minutes of the smell of gas being detected; the school was closed and all students transported home within an hour.

Miami Township Fire-Rescue investigated the leak, which was caused by the failure of a heat exchanger on a rooftop heating unit. The unit was repaired over the weekend and school was back in regular session the following Monday.

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With the gas leak in mind, the letter — in addition to several public comments by people present at the meeting — also urged the board to “keep moving forward quickly” on the district’s facilities improvement project, which was given the go-ahead by voters in November.

The board did move forward on the facilities project by taking the next step in the process: approving Ruetschle Architects as the project’s architectural firm. Ruetschle Architects, and in particular firm Vice President Mike Ruetschle, worked with the district in 2022 and 2023 as a consultant to create a master facilities plan to put before voters.

The firm made its pitch for the project before the board’s evaluation subcommittee, which included Potter and board member Dorothée Bouquet, along with district administrators. The presentation put forth Ruetschle Architects’ qualifications for the facilities project, and introduced some contractors with whom the firm would work if selected to oversee the project.

Bouquet noted that Ruetschle Architects was the only firm to respond to a request for qualifications, or RFQ, which the board approved and posted in December. However, board members overall said they felt confident that Ruetschle’s past relationship with the district made the firm an ideal candidate for the project.

“I’m pleased that one candidate is Ruetschle,” Hempfling said. “We’ve had a great experience working with them, they are trusted by the community and they’ve been more than generous with their time helping us in the last two years.”

Bailey added that, of the 72 projects Ruetschle has completed around the state, only 14 have been over budget, with the largest of those overages being 3.2%.

Potter agreed that she was also confident in Ruetschle’s appropriateness for the project, but said she had initially been concerned that the firm was the only architectural candidate. That concern, she said, was allayed by finding that, should contract negotiations with Ruetschle be unfavorable for the district, the board could open up the RFQ process a second time.

“But just to make clear, especially with the letter that was sent … that does not mean delaying the process at all — it’s just a reality of a negotiation, when you don’t have another candidate to go with,” Potter said. “But we have a very good candidate to go with.”

Bouquet added that, in speaking with Ruetschle, she had been given an estimate of what delaying the project by a month would cost.

“One month of delay is $155,000 of taxpayers’ money that we cannot dedicate to the end product,” she said.

The board also discussed approving an RFQ for a construction manager at-risk, or CMR, to work with Ruetschle Architects pending negotiations with the architectural firm. Potter expressed some concern about the quick turn-around time between posting the RFQ and receiving and evaluating applications and presentations from interested firms. She cited a similar turnaround in December as a possible reason for Ruetschle being the only architectural firm to apply for the project.

“This … seems like an accelerated timeline, and I want to make sure we have a really strong pool for this very important position,” Potter said.

After some board discussion, Ben Hyden of Bricker Graydon, the district’s legal counsel firm, said he believes that there’s “nothing abnormal” about the timeline the district proposed. He assured board members that potential CMR candidates — one of whom was in attendance at the meeting, as Hyden pointed out — are already aware of the district’s facilities improvement project and would not be caught unawares by the RFQ. He also noted that Ruetschle would be able to participate in evaluating CMR candidates, even while still in contract negotiation with the district.

“That’s the bottom line — the architect’s going to participate, the timeline is reasonable,” Hyden said.

With these assurances in mind, the board moved ahead with approving an RFQ, which was posted the day after the meeting.

Yondr pouch update

After the return from winter break earlier this month, the district began implementing the use of Yondr pouches — which allow students at the middle and high schools to keep their smartphones on their person, but sealed in a locked bag.

McKinney and YSHS Principal Jack Hatert spoke briefly about the pouches, which on the evening of the school board meeting had been in use for a little over a week. The day of the meeting, he said, marked the first day there had been no smart-phone-related infractions in the middle or high schools.

“Kids are already remarking how much they are enjoying not having their phones,” Hatert said.

Hatert also cited the recent gas leak and the district’s emergency response plan, saying that in emergency situations, it’s ideal for news to be issued to parents and guardians via the district rather than by students via smartphone, to ensure timely, organized and complete information.

The News aims to report on the use of Yondr pouches, and how their efficacy is perceived by both students and educators, in the coming months.

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