By Jeff Gallatin
School officials Thursday formally asked for state assistance and took a step toward placing a possible 5.46-mill bond levy on the November ballot that would build a new sixth- through 12th-grade school, a new athletic complex and performing arts center on the current middle and high school campuses.
A resolution unanimously approved by the North Olmsted City Schools Board of Education Thursday approved asking the Ohio Shcool State Facilities commission to set aside $8.98 million as its 12-percent share of costs for the construction being considered by district officials. If approved, the new school would replace the current 84-year-old middle school and the 54-year-old high school – both of which would be razed in the project. As a proposal from the district’s volunteer Facilities Task Force currently stands, a new athletic complex and performing arts center would also be built as part of the levy. The initial proposed millage also includes costs for relocation of district athletic facilities and land acquisition.
However, OSFC officials have emphasized that the state funds could only be used toward building a new building that houses the middle school educational classroom and education functions. The funds could not be used to build a new high school and make the current high school the middle school, renovate the current middle school or on other functions such as a new athletic complex and/or a performing arts center. The state also stipulated that North Olmsted must set a plan in place between July 2014 and August 2015, meaning any levy financing the district’s share of the costs must be approved in that time period or the district would have to resubmit any request to the state for funding assistance.
Based on the current estimates, the total cost or taxes for a homeowner with a $100,000 home would be $191.41 annually, or $15.95 a month. Senior citizens and residents over 65 who are eligible for the Homestead Exemption would receive an annual tax credit of $41.87, reducing their cost to $149.54 annually.
School board President John Lasko said asking the state to set aside its share of the new building costs is only a beginning to formally putting any issue on the ballot.
“It is the first of many steps,” he said.
In addition, the district still must formally approve a ballot proposal and what is contained in it. Then, it must get the figures approved with Cuyahoga County tax officials and to state officials by July 7.
Jerry Kasarcik, a spokesman for the volunteer Facilities Task Force, gave a presentation at the board meeting about the task force’s recommendation. He said the task force examined various data such as estimated costs for renovating all nine current district schools, school enrollment figures and potential impacts.
Kasarcik said surveys indicated staff believe the current facilities cannot help provide a proper education in the 21st century.
He also cited the figures showing it currently would take an estimated $100.4 million to renovate all the district’s buildings to meet minimum standards, while also noting all of them are beyond the recommended threshold for renovating as opposed to building a new school.
Kasarcik also noted district enrollment has dropped from a peak of 8,000 students in the 1970s to 4,000 currently, and is expected to remain flat.
“It is an unsustainable business model and does not make good use of our taxpayer dollars and resources,” he said. “We need to reduce the number of buildings.”
He said putting in the new school building would be the first phase and help put more students into one modern, better equipped facility.
“I believe the grade six through 12 campus concept is a perfect match for the needs of our community and the benefit to the community, will be significant for decades to come,” he said.
Another phase could be implemented to reduce the number of other schools from seven to three or four neighborhood schools, he said. This would also aid the community by attracting new families, upgrade home and property values and spurring economic growth in the community.
Superintendent Mike Zalar said the district is planning on having community meetings in late July and early August to discuss construction details. He told board member Tom Herbster after a funding plan is approved, more specific details will be hammered out, with diagrams and information to can be released in coming months as they are conceived and approved.