Months of meetings with the public, gallons of coffee consumed and countless opinions considered have led the Grandview Heights City School District to a decision on the future of its buildings.

Superintendent Andy Culp last week recommended a project that would involve renovating Stevenson Elementary School and the high school and building a new school for students in grades 4-8.

The new school would be constructed on the site of the existing Edison Intermediate/ Larson Middle School on Oakland Avenue.

Culp announced the option as his recommendation at an Aug. 3 community meeting.

He will present his recommendation to the school board for the first time Sept. 19. The board will not take a vote regarding facilities at that meeting.

A final recommendation is expected to be made to the board in April 2018 after a financial advisory committee reviews cost, funding and phasing issues for the proposed project.

The school board is expected to vote on the plan in April, followed by a May vote concerning potential ballot issues for November 2018.

"The best plan is one that the community feels is the best way to meet the needs of our district and our students," Culp said. "Based on the feedback we've received from the community, this is the plan a majority of our community favors.

"This plan will be the best way to address the $44.5 million in deferred maintenance and capital improvements that were identified in the assessment of our facilities and to maintain the fiscal health of the district, short- and long-term," he said.

Community input has been a vital part of the facilities planning process, board President Jesse Truett said.

"When we started this process, we looked at what other districts had done, including visiting a couple of districts in the Cincinnati area, and what we found is that it's important to include your residents in the process all along the way," he said. "You could come up with a plan quickly, but it's better to take the time and involve the community so that it's as much their plan as yours.

"All along, we've been committed to conducting this process in the most transparent way we can," Truett said. "That's why we committed to making a final decision at least six months before we would be going to the ballot. We want to make sure our residents have plenty of time to review our plan before voting on it."

Saving (school's) face

Local input shows the value people place on the high school and elementary school buildings, Truett said.

One of the reasons the option that featured a new high school gained little traction is that the cost of such a project would have included the construction of a new auditorium, he said.

"I was struck by what the front facade of the high school means to this community," he said. "It's one of the defining landmarks in our district."

The amount of deferred maintenance is not much different between the high school and Edison/Larson, Truett said.

"The middle school is really sort of four buildings that have been glued together over the years with the different additions," he said. "I don't think there's the same hesitancy to the idea of constructing a new building because of that."

A new 4-8 building could be constructed in a more cost-efficient and educationally beneficial way than gutting the building to make the needed renovations, Truett said.

The financial advisory committee will not be formed until January.

"We've got three board seats up for election in November (2017) and we won't have the property reappraisal numbers from the county auditor finalized until the end of the year," Truett said.

"The financial committee's charge will be to analyze the question of how we would be able to fund the recommended plan I'll present to the school board on Sept. 19," Culp said. "They will be looking at whether that might involve a bond levy, a permanent-improvement levy, financial donations, fundraising or other funding options."

The committee also will look at whether the facilities project should be completed and/or funded in phases or segments, as well as what transitional or swing space would be needed as a new 4-8 school is built and renovations are completed at Stevenson and the high school, he said.

"The final recommendation they will be presenting will include an exact cost of a project and what the exact cost will be to property owners," Culp said.

In addition, the committee will be asked to make a recommendation on a potential operating levy based on an updated five-year financial forecast for the school district, he said.

Another question is whether the district would need to seek both a facilities ballot issue and an operating levy in November 2018, Culp said.

The group also will be asked to review the district's existing permanent-improvement fund, which generates $540,000 annually for facility and technological upgrades and repairs, he said.

The financial information will be presented to the public at an April 2018 board meeting, followed by a final report on costs in May.

"That's when we would expect to take a final vote on putting something on the November 2018 ballot," Truett said.

Process of elimination

Over the past several months, a community engagement process has narrowed the list of potential facility options from seven to three and now to the final choice.

The three options presented in June also included a plan for modest repairs to the district's three school buildings, and another that called for comprehensive renovations and repairs.

Culp said his recommendation was shaped by the input the district received from the community.

That included exit tickets filled out by residents who attended community meetings in May and June when the options were presented; online community surveys that followed those meetings; a series of coffees hosted by residents; and engagement of residents who do not have children in the district, he said.

"The feedback we received showed the clear consensus from the community was that they favored making repairs and renovations to the elementary and high school buildings, but building a new school for grades 4-8," Culp said.

The community survey following the June 8 meeting was completed by 450 people. Fifty-four percent of the respondents reported being a parent or guardian; 24 percent described themselves as an interested resident; 14 percent were district staff members; and 7 percent identified themselves in other ways.

Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said they favored or strongly favored the option to build a new 4-8 school while renovating and repairing the other two schools.

The modest renovate and repair option received positive votes from 33 percent; the comprehensive renovate and repair plan was given a favorable rating by 49 percent.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said the option with the new 4-8 building was the best for the district and community. Fifteen percent named the modest renovate and repair as the best plan; 17 percent chose the comprehensive renovate and repair; and 14 percent said other options would be best.

Sixty-one percent said it would be best to replace Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School, while 26 percent said renovation would be the better choice. Five percent said neither option was better and 8 percent said either one would work.

Residents who attended the Aug. 3 meeting were asked to fill out sheets to give feedback, both individually and collectively with the other people sitting at their tables, about the draft option Culp presented.

Culp said he will review the feedback received before he makes his recommendation to the board.

"There may be a few tweaks based on the feedback we receive," he said.

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