By Jeff Gallatin
A group of volunteers and school officials studying facility issues for North Olmsted City Schools believes new and bigger is better.
Superintendent Mike Zalar and members of the Task Force for Facilities Master Plan committee unveiled before a full house in the North Olmsted Middle School auditorium Monday a two-phase proposal to have the district upgrade its school facilities. Phase one would be to build a $73 million building that would house grades six through 12 on the current 55-acre high school and middle school campus, with options to include a performing arts center and athletic complex. Students from grades six through eight and grades nine through 12 would would attend different wings. Phase two would be to have the district replace, renovate and/or consolidate the current seven remaining primary or intermediate schools into three or four pre-kindergarten through fifth grade neighborhood schools.
Zalar, North Olmsted school board President John Lasko and task force members said the recommendation was based on figures and statistics showing district buildings – in particular the middle school and high school – are beyond useful renovation, the chance to get the state of Ohio to help pay for the new building and that district enrollment has dropped enough so that seven K-5 buildings are no longer needed to house the rest of the students.
“Do we spend over $52 million to repair an 84-year-old middle school and a 52-year-old high school with just the basics and no extras?” Zalar asked. “Do we spend $64 million (the $73 million current estimated cost for a 6-12 building minus the $9 million which could be obtained from the state to help with the construction) to replace the middle school and high school with a new state-of-the-art facility conducive to 21st-century learning?”
Lasko said the recent decision by the Ohio School Facilities Commission that it would pay for 12 percent of the construction of new middle school educational facilities for the district is a key to the recommendation. The 12 percent is the maximum North Olmsted is eligible for under the commission’s funding formula.
“We’ve been presented with a unique opportunity to consider a solution to our facility issues,” he said.
Task force members Dave Furin and Glenn Novak said the panel believes it’s a better option for the district and community as a whole to build the new building instead of renovating current structures.
State officials said the district has a 13-month window from July 2014 to August 2015 in which to put in place a plan where the state money could be used to build new middle school facilities. The officials said the state funds could be used to either help build a new separate middle school or a new building housing multiple grades that included the middle school as part of it. The state funds can’t be used for more renovations of the current middle school or moving the middle school to the current high school building and building a new high school.
When asked by an audience member during the question and answer portion of the session how the district would pay for its share of the construction and how much it might cost the owner of a $100,000 home annually, Zalar said district officials have not begun to calculate those types of figures yet. Instead, both he and Lasko emphasized district officials are still studying the issue and waiting to see what facilities proposal the community decides is best to proceed with.
When another audience member asked how long it would take to build a new 6-12 structure, Zalar said it would depend on when a plan is put in place and a funding proposal approved, but said officials hope it would take about three to four years. He also said decisions about how to proceed with phase two would be made later, but noted with with seven current primary and intermediate schools, the district would be able to house students while the schools selected as the “neighborhood” schools are renovated to fit the new district plan.
Throughout the presentation, the officials emphasized the current poor condition of the nine district school buildings. A study by Architectural Vision Group, the firm helping the district study the facilities issues, showed the current estimated cost to renovate the nine buildings is about $99.1 million.
The estimated renovation costs for each building were: Birch Elementary, $6.3 million; Butternut Elementary, $5.4 million; Forest Elementary, $6.4 million; Spruce Elementary, $5 million; Chestnut Intermediate, $7.9 million; Maple Intermediate, $6.8 million; Pine Intermediate, $8.6 million; middle school, $20.8 million; and high school, $31.6 million.
Zalar said district administration officials also recently decided its likely a portion of the middle school will have to be closed off to classroom use next year because of poor roof conditions.
“The middle school is well-past the stage where it makes sense to renovate and has become a money drain with no return on the resources invested,” he said. “The middle school can no longer be Band-Aided together and is now becoming a serious health and safety concern for staff and students.”