Upper Arlington News

Schools, city consider sharing space at MSC

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Increased emphasis on collaborations that could save money and enhance other efficiencies could result in relocating the Upper Arlington school district's central office to the city's Municipal Services Center.

The Upper Arlington Board of Education shifted its March 11 public meeting venue from the basement of the school district's central office at 1950 N. Mallway Drive, to Upper Arlington City Council chambers at the MSC, 3600 Tremont Road.

The board intends to meet there on an ongoing basis, according to district officials, who said the move makes sense because the council chambers are more accommodating, the MSC is a central meeting place for the community and because it's representative of a renewed commitment by the district and city to share services when possible.

The transition also could be a prelude to a larger collaboration that, at this point, is just being discussed. That project would include moving the district's administrative offices to the city's government hub.

"We are definitely exploring the option to share the city building to see if it is possible," said Karen Truett, district director of communications. "If we could share costs in one building, then we would have to figure out what would happen to the little building we are in right now -- whether it could be used in another way or sold or rented.

"It's worth exploring a move to the city building because there is some space and ... we could potentially save money. It is worth looking into it," she said.

At this point, the relocation discussion primarily has taken place between UA City Manager Ted Staton and UA schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff.

Emma Speight, community affairs director for the city, said some rough sketches also have been drawn up to provide a better idea of how the arrangement might look.

"We're just getting started to see is it feasible (and) what would the costs be," Speight said. "It certainly would not be done if it didn't make sense fiscally."

Speight said relocating the district's administrative offices likely would require design work and an examination of the MSC's parking capacity.

Council also is expected to be involved in discussions if the two sides reach a stage where a formal proposal could be made, she said.

"I would imagine this is going to be a many-months project if it goes ahead," Speight said.

One scenario would involve moving stored city records to a UA Public Services Department annex on Roberts Road, which could free up space for the schools.

Speight said current discussions have focused on using the existing space at the MSC, and no expansion of the facility has been considered.

According to Truett, the district's central office was built in 1958 and is approximately 9,000 square feet.

She acknowledged there likely would be costs associated with a relocation, but district and city officials hope to determine if initial expenses could be offset over time by sharing utilities and maintenance for a single facility.

"Sometimes, you have to make an up-front investment to recognize savings," Truett said. "We're all in when it comes to exploring different options for shared services and cutting costs."

In recent years, shared services have been encouraged by state leaders and have been pursued by some local governments because the Ohio General Assembly has made cuts to the Local Government Fund.

UA City Council members and city officials repeatedly have discussed the virtues of shared services in recent years.

Thus far, Staton has called for the exploration of a merger of the city's 911 dispatch center with other central Ohio communities, and UA already partners with Norwich Township and Grandview Heights in sharing equipment and maintenance for municipal vehicles.

Additionally, UA schools and the city now jointly publish a newsletter -- a move that saved the district $14,000 in annual costs and the city $9,000; and district summer programming information will be included in the city's upcoming Activity Guide.

During a bid for re-election last year, UA City Councilman David DeCapua pledged his support to a 4-mill school levy, which passed last November, on the condition that the district commit to more school-municipal partnerships.

While he hasn't been involved with the relocation discussion, DeCapua said he thinks the concept is "brilliant."

"I've got to see the economics and have an understanding of it but, in theory, it sounds perfect," he said. "You potentially get the schools' administrative building to the municipal building and then we'll consolidate a lot of roles."

Likewise, Upper Arlington Mayor and Council President Don Leach said he's interested in seeing if a proposal can be brought forth.

"The overall idea, whatever the collaboration might be, is to increase efficiency, save money for both organizations and better serve the public," he said.

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