Rocky Fork Enterprise

Capital improvements

Board weighing needs, fall ballot options

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The Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education took a first glimpse at possible capital-improvement projects during a June 4 special meeting and June 5 workshop.

The board faces a July 7 deadline to file a resolution with the Franklin County Board of Elections if it wants to proceed with a bond issue, permanent-improvements levy or combination of the two on the November ballot.

District treasurer Julio Valladares said the resolution due July 7 wouldn't commit the board to going on the ballot, but it would leave the door open.

School board president Jill Schuler said the public would have many opportunities to offer comments and suggestions about facilities projects throughout the summer.

Valladares reviewed possible scenarios, based on the findings of SHP Leading Design, a firm that was hired in February to establish a five-year capital-improvements plan at a cost not to exceed $10,000.

He said the total over the next five years to just upgrade and remodel all buildings would be about $26 million.

Superintendent Francis Scruci said building needs include such items as heating and air conditioning, lighting and windows.

"It's those kinds of things," he said. "It isn't additional space. We're addressing immediate needs."

Jerry Dirr, principal of SHP, said a key component in planning is the assessment of the facilities. SHP personnel talked to maintenance staff and building administrators to focus on what needs to be done to catch up and keep up for the next five years.

"I don't think it would surprise you one of our bigger numbers is Lincoln Elementary," he said. "You aren't going to upgrade that HVAC system easily. It would be in the millions of dollars. Each building, we look at interior, site work and mechanical."

Dirr said it's a tough decision to keep a building or put money into it. A guideline that sets the replacement-versus-renovation standard for school facilities is a figure of two-thirds of the cost of a new building, according to the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

The first scenario, Valladares said, would involve replacing Lincoln Elementary School with a new building.

"That's the most needy building the district has," Valladares said. "You could build a new building close to Middle School South."

The projected cost to replace the school would be $15 million. Along with improvement needs at other district buildings, the projected cost would be about $37 million, he said.

John Payne, principal of Columbus-based firm Bradley Payne, has served as the district's financial adviser for 13 years. He said the district is collecting only 2 mills for bonds.

As some of that debt is poised to fall off, Payne said, a 24-year bond could be set up to continue to collect 2 mills and nothing more for a "no net additional millage."

He said other school boards have done this, and taxpayers seem to agree it's a reasonable approach.

In addition to the issuance of bonds to finance the project costs, the district would assume a 0.25-mill permanent-improvements levy to finance the ongoing maintenance of the new building.

A second possible scenario would involve tearing down and replacing Lincoln and Royal Manor elementary school buildings at a cost of $15 million each and renovating other district buildings for a total cost of $50 million.

In this option, Goshen Lane Elementary School students would relocate to the newly constructed elementary buildings, and Goshen Lane possibly would be used as an all-kindergartner building.

An estimated 0.5 additional mill would be required to fully finance this project, and the bonds could be paid off as rapidly as 27 years. In addition to the issuance of the bonds, a 0.25-mill permanent-improvements levy would be assessed to finance the ongoing maintenance of the new buildings.

Valladares said the third scenario would be extensive, replacing eight buildings and keeping the best three buildings. All buildings would be replaced except Chapelfield Elementary School, High Point Elementary School and Middle School South. The cost, along with improvements to the remaining three, would be $232 million. In that example, it would cost $108 million alone to replace Lincoln High School and $21 million each to replace two middle schools.

"We know this community can't support $232 million," Scruci said.

He said the Lincoln Elementary School idea is because of land at South that would lend itself to an elementary.

Board member Lew Griffin said the taxpayers need to make a decision on what they want the community to look like.

"Tell what you want moving forward," Valladares said. "What does the community want us to do? There's a time line. If we do anything, we have to pass a resolution by July 7."

Scott Schmidt, the district's executive director of elementary education, said the district was in a similar situation in the late 1980s to early 1990s with facilities.

"It was time to do something, and there were discussions about do we rebuild or remodel," he said. "We remodeled. Buildings received new roofs, and we had air conditioning for the first time."

By the end of the 1990s, he said, some changes were made in the delivery of instruction and libraries were updated in all buildings.

"Now, just like home improvements, roofs have a limited life," Schmidt said. "We haven't done any big projects in the last 20 years."

In examining educational needs and enrollment, he said, nothing significant warrants additional classroom space.

"Do we look at new HVAC and roofs where applicable or look at other buildings?" Schmidt said. "Look at what makes sense moving forward."

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