A new school for Oberlin students at last?

Board of education aims for April 10 decision

By Laurie Hamame - lhamame@aimmediamidwest.com

A long-awaited decision on building a new school could come April 10 when the Oberlin board of education meets.

Officials are talking about putting a bond issue for construction on the November ballot. The school board recently approved $13,500 for ThenDesign Architecture to complete a facilities assessment on the district’s buildings.

Langston Middle School was built in 1923 and Oberlin High School was build in 1960. Eastwood and Prospect elementaries were built in 1955 and 1960, respectively.

Board members have said it’s costly to maintain aging buildings, especially in a period of shrinking enrollment.

A cost evaluation was completed in 2012 by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. The Willoughby-based firm was hired to verify the state’s numbers.

If the cost of renovations exceeds two-thirds of the cost of building a new school, the commission will provide financial help to local taxpayers. All four of Oberlin’s schools are eligible for replacement.

Cheryl Fisher of ThenDesign Architecture presented an assessment of each school at a March 13 meeting. Heating, electrical, sewage, lighting, and security systems were among the 23 line items evaluated.

To renovate all four schools, architects estimate a $49.4 million price tag, up $5 million from the 2012 state assessment.

Langston Middle School has the highest cost. The bulk of the $16.5 million would go toward heating systems and general finishes.

Guardrails on the current stairwells are not code compliant, window support beams are starting to bow, water has accumulated in the basement, and the building plaster has asbestos, Fisher said.

Renovations at Prospect Elementary would cost around $9.1 million. The exterior walls have little to no insulation, the water heater is old, and the playground equipment is in poor condition, Fisher said.

The high school’s auditorium is dated and the wall that divides the hallway from the cafeteria is in poor condition. Fisher estimated a total renovation cost of $15.9 million.

Around $8 million would be budgeted for Eastwood Elementary.

All schools have deteriorating asphalt, unit vents requiring brick infill, and non-secured vestibule entrances.

“Visitors are buzzed in and have free access to the entire building,” Fisher said. “There is no secure clearance and checking point.”

Replacing all four buildings would cost up to $63 million. That number is affected by student population size, which would be reassessed before construction, Fisher said. High-cost spaces include rooms laden with technology, such as science labs and libraries.

Fisher shared a plan dividing renovations into three time frames: immediate needs such as roofing, windows, and security systems to be addressed over one to five years; short-term needs such as technology and general finishes to be addressed over five to 10 years; and long-term needs such as electrical systems, plumbing, and interior lighting to be addressed over 10 or more years.

Renovating all four buildings over 20 years would likely cost the district nearly $50 million.

“The longer we don’t do anything, we are still spending hand over fist to keep the buildings we have right now in shape for our kids to be learning,” said board president Anne Schaum. “And we have to have that. We have to have spaces where our kids are able to learn every day. We’re pouring money into these buildings even if we aren’t passing a bond issue.”

Fisher presented a master plan that “seems to make the most sense” — a PK-12 school built in two parts, which will provide opportunities for teacher collaboration and student mentorship.

Phase one involves building a new PK-4 portion using local funds before state money becomes available down the road. The local funds would be reimbursed.

The total project cost of phase one is approximately $14.5 million, which includes $279,146 toward storm shelter code requirements.

School board member Barry Richard said officials have been interested in a PK-5 building. He asked ThenDesign Architecture to redraft the proposal to fit this need.

Phase two, which would make room for grades five to 12, would be funded under the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program. It is based on the assessed property valuation per student, which determines the state and local share of the project.

Fisher estimated the the project cost to be $20.4 million, which includes $3 million for site safety, $388,911 for a storm shelter, and $3.2 million to abate and demolish existing schools.

The state would cover $6.9 million of the project, leaving $13.5 million of the bill to local taxpayers.

These numbers do not include an auditorium, bus parking, board of education offices, a stadium, track, playground, or any additional square footage. The district would be responsible for all of those costs.

“Operating costs for the building will be lower,” said second grade teacher Brittany Leader, in response to board members’ looks of dismay. “I know it’s not a huge saving to the taxpayers, but you will not be replacing roofs every year. The energy costs to run the building will be lower. You will have those extra monies to pay for those extra costs. It will not come close to it, but there will be saving over time.”

The board can follow either of two paths to place a bond issue on the November ballot.

The first requires a decision on a master plan by April 10. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission could then approve the board resolution in July.

The second requires a master plan consensus by the end of May, giving the board an extra seven weeks to deliberate. The OFCC could then approve the board resolution in October.

The difference between the two is that a new equity ranking is set in September, which will determine the district’s local share of construction costs. It is set by the Ohio School Board Association and is determined by student population and property values. Oberlin is currently at 79 percent.

Before the board’s April 10 meeting, members will meet with Fisher to discuss additional master plan options, such as renovating Prospect Elementary into a PK-5 school and the high school into a 6-12 building.

“We’ve done 10 years of homework,” Richard said. “It’s time to pull the trigger.”

The school board has pulled new school construction plans off the ballot twice in recent years.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

Board of education aims for April 10 decision

By Laurie Hamame