A proposed $35.5 million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school building is flunking with some residents due to cost.
Oberlin board of education members said at June 1 work session that the building would save the school district at least $1 million annually after opening in 2020 through reduced energy, maintenance, and personnel costs.
The building would be constructed on a 48-acre site by Oberlin High School with the high school being razed. Prospect Elementary School would also likely be demolished while Eastwood Elementary and Langston Middle School would likely be sold to developers for multi-family housing.
Board members note it’s costly to maintain aging buildings — Langston was built in 1923, Eastwood in 1955, and Prospect and the high school were built in 1960 — and enrollment is shrinking.
The 1,000-student district is expected to decline to 945 students, about five percent, by 2020. It would be a 14-percent drop from the 1,100 students Oberlin had in 2004.
“We just have a physical plant that’s too big,” board member Barry Richard said. “We need to downsize.”
Board members last month discussed the option of a $37 million cost and a 4.81-mill levy for the building. Superintendent David Hall said board members plan to use money from the annual maintenance levy to lower the cost and will also try to raise private donations.
Despite the lower number and estimated savings, several residents balked at the cost.
The local cost of the building would be paid for with a 3.81-mill, 37-year property tax costing the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $132 annually; and a 30-year, 0.50 percent income tax costing $204 annually for a worker earning $40,000 yearly.
State taxpayers are expected to pay about $5.9 million of the cost with reimbursement beginning in 2019 or 2020, although Richard admitted that figure isn’t guaranteed.
Median home value in Oberlin in 2014 was $139,700, with most homes worth between $100,000 to $125,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Median annual household income was $52,632 with most households earning $60,000 to $75,000. Most property owners paid $2,000 to $3,000 in annual taxes.
Resident Sandra Redd said her home is valued at more than $200,000, meaning she would pay at least $264 more in annual property taxes. “How do you expect little people like me to afford that?” she asked.
Board members said a limited renovation would cost $15 million and one meeting Ohio Facilities Construction Commission standards would be $43 million.
Consolidating to three schools would cost a minimum of $12 million for renovation and $35 million to meet commission standards. Consolidation would save about $340,000 annually but mean less space for art, computer, music, physical education and special education classes as well as longer lunch periods.
Despite emphasizing the long-term savings of construction over consolidation or renovation, board members said they hadn’t made up their minds.
However, resident Melissa Ballard said it’s clear they’ve decided the proposal will be on the November ballot.
She said many voters, such as Oberlin College students and Kendal at Oberlin residents, won’t have to pay the cost. Ballard also disagreed with board members’ contention that a new school building will draw more young families to Oberlin.
“It’s going to discourage people from moving here,” she said. “People who are struggling to get by are going to be stuck with this.”
Resident Joan Webster said educational “dedication” and “expertise” count more than “bricks and windows and air conditioning” in attracting and retaining young families. She said asking younger residents to pay more taxes when many have “enormous” college debt is unfair.
“I see these young adults struggling,” Webster said. “They’re the young parents of kids in our elementary schools and it really matters.”
Nonetheless, some residents supported a new building. Homeowner Todd Rasmussen, a member of a board committee that explored renovation, said he’ll have to pay more taxes for a building that won’t be finished until his three children have graduated from high school. But Rasmussen said he hopes to have grandchildren attend the district and spending millions on old schools doesn’t make sense.
He urged residents to think long-term. “This may be your opportunity to do it and do it right and do it for 50, 60 years,” Rasmussen said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.