Opponents of a proposed $43.3 million PK-12 school made their opinions known at an April 10 meeting of the Oberlin board of education.
The single-building campus concept, debated for many years, comes with high up-front costs. But board members said it will save the small district at least $1 million each year through reduced energy, maintenance, and personnel costs.
The board is likely to go to voters in November, asking for money to finance construction.
“People want a chance to vote,” said board member Barry Richard. “Yeah these things are hard, but we’ve been elected to make decisions that are tough.”
He’s more in favor of building a new PK-5 school to get something in front of voters to consider, and eventually finishing an entire PK-12 campus when the district receives state money.
“Our buildings are not in favor compared to other districts in the county,” he said.
Rob Calhoun, an Oberlin resident, said he thinks there will be more support for a ballot measure that passes in a non-presidential year because residents won’t place blame on Oberlin College students.
“I’m generally a member of the ‘raise my taxes’ part of the community, but I have to say on building a brand new school, you’re probably losing me,” Calhoun said.
Big money needs to be spent, he said, but he’d rather see the board choose the lowest cost option because people do not select a school district based on its facilities. Test scores, bullying, and safety are the more important factors, he said.
Board members have previously said it’s costly to maintain aging buildings.
Architects estimate renovating all four buildings over 20 years would cost nearly $50 million. Building four new schools would cost up to $63 million.
Despite estimated savings and rising maintenance costs, several residents balked at the idea of a new school, especially in a period of shrinking enrollment. The state predicts the 989-student district will decline to 895 within four years.
Increasing debt while enrollment falls is not sustainable, said resident Debbi Walsh. She noted that the nation is at its lowest birth rate on record and online schools are becoming more of a trend.
“We need to be fiscally prudent, we need to remain flexible, and we should not be acting like a wealthier school district than we are,” she said. “We could have a brand new school building and high taxes and people not wanting to move here and I think that’s the direction we’re going.”
Board member Ken Stanley said the difference between the cost of a school for 800 versus 900 students “unfortunately just isn’t that large.”
Resident Kevin Weidenbaum said the number of students doesn’t matter: “If the public isn’t willing to provide safe, modern teaching facilities for it’s children, it is the children and the teachers who will suffer the consequences,” he said.
The approximately 132,370-square foot building would be constructed on a site next to Oberlin High School and be built in two parts, according to a presentation by Cheryl Fisher of ThenDesign Architecture.
Phase one involves building a new PK-5 portion using local funds before state money becomes available down the road. A $3 million credit would be reimbursed after the entire project is completed.
The total project cost of phase one is roughly $17.1 million, which includes $1 million for three additional classrooms and another $1 million for a field house.
Phase two would be co-funded through 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 phase two cost to be $19.8 million, which includes $3 million for abatement and demolition of existing schools. The state would cover $6.9 million — or 35 percent — of the cost, leaving $12.9 million to local taxpayers.
The district would also be responsible for $3.4 million to build 10 additional classrooms and $3 million toward a brand new auditorium.
In total, the PK-12 building is estimated to cost $43.3 million, and the state’s assistance will lower the local price tag to $36.3 million.
Those numbers do not include optional locally funded initiatives, including $1.3 million for new board of education offices, $1.2 million for staff and athletic parking and to relocate tennis courts, $1.1 million for new ball fields, and $1.7 million for a new bus garage and bus parking.
A new stadium would cost nearly $3.1 million and renovating the existing stadium would cost $2.7 million. These numbers exclude an optional field house.
At board members’ request, Fisher assembled alternative master plan options and compared the cost of renovation to Ohio Facilities Construction Commission standards and Ohio Basic Building Code.
For example, BBC does not require buildings to have air conditioning or for windows to be changed. OFCC replaces all windows and charges $28 per square foot for air conditioning.
Converting Prospect Elementary into a single PK-5 school would cost $14.5 million, which includes $3.1 million for a 9,337-square foot addition, $9.3 million for full OFCC renovations, $1 million for three additional classrooms, $1 million for a field house, and a storm shelter.
The total project cost estimate decreases to $9.3 million with basic code renovations.
Changing Langston Middle School into a PK-5 building would cost $19.9 million, which includes $17.9 million for for full OFCC renovations, $1 million for three additional classrooms, $1 million for a field house, and a storm shelter.
The total project cost estimate drops nearly $10 million if the district only builds to basic code.
Renovating Eastwood Elementary to a PK-5 school with OFCC code would cost $14.7 million, which includes $4.6 million for a 15,228-square foot addition, $8.1 million for renovations, $1 million for three additional classrooms, $1 million for a field house, and a storm shelter.
With basic code renovations, the cost is estimated to be $9.7 million.
A 6-12 conversion at Oberlin High School with full OFCC code would cost $26 million, which includes $16 million in renovations, $1.6 thousand for a 2,473-square foot addition, $2 million to abate and demolish Eastwood and Langston schools, $3.4 million for 10 additional classrooms, $3 million for a brand new auditorium, and a storm shelter.
Following basic code, the cost drops to $17.5 million.
Oberlin school board president Anne Schaum and resident Meisha Baker were both skeptical of only adding 10 classrooms to a high school renovation.
“You’re telling me if we add 10 classrooms to this building right now, we can fit two more grades?” Schaum asked Fisher.
“I think that calculation is totally off,” Baker said. “You add 10 classrooms and you still have a problem because now you have 10 more classrooms that have to go to art and we don’t want 100 kids sitting in an art room.”
To place a bond issue on the November ballot, the board must come to a consensus by the end of May. The OFCC could then approve the board resolution in October.
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 Department of Education and is determined by student population and property values. Oberlin is currently at 79 percent.
The board could have avoided a new ranking if members came to a decision at the April 10 meeting. The board resolution would have been approved by the OFCC in July.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
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