The Grandview Heights City School District will finalize a plan for addressing its aging buildings in 2018 -- but leaders say what goes on inside those buildings remains the top priority.

"The facilities project is important, but we want to stay focused on our core mission to maximize and personalize every student's learning," Superintendent Andy Culp said. "That's why we exist."

In September, Culp presented an initial recommendation to the school board that the district pursue a project to renovate the high school and Stevenson Elementary School buildings and construct a new building for grades 4-8 at the site now occupied by Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School. That building would be razed.

The board is expected to vote in May on a final facility plan and place a funding issue on the November 2018 ballot.

A financial advisory committee will begin work this month, Culp said.

The volunteer group will work toward making a set of recommendations on funding the facility plan and a potential operating levy.

"Their charge is to come up with an exact cost of the project, look at how we are going to fund the project, determining a timeline for construction and whether we should do a project in phases or all at once, and to look at what our transitional or swing-space needs might be during a construction project," Culp said.

A final plan has not been determined, school board President Jesse Truett said.

The finance committee's recommendations will help shape the final plan the board approves in May, he said.

"We're committed to having all of the details of a plan worked out and communicated to the community at least six months ahead of a potential levy vote in November," Truett said.

The committee also will be asked to recommend whether the district should seek an operating levy in 2018 in conjunction with a bond issue, or whether it can wait another year.

"The longer we put off an operating levy, the higher the millage is going to have to be," Treasurer Beth Collier said. "The sooner we go to the ballot, the lower the millage."

Another issue regarding the facilities project is whether the district should try to partner with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, Collier said.

"If we did an OFCC project, we could be eligible for some reimbursement of the cost down the road," she said.

It's not certain whether Grandview would meet the OFCC's criteria, and it would have to agree to certain parameters to participate in the state program, Collier said.

The financial advisory committee also will recommend whether the district should maintain its permanent-improvement fund at its current annual level or increase it, Culp said.

The group is expected to make its recommendations to the board in March.

More than facilities

The facilities planning process is one of the district's three objectives for the 2017-18 school year, Culp said.

"The other two are academically focused," he said, centered on improving academic performance and "ensuring that student learning is maximized through authentic and personalized instruction."

One proposal the district will explore in 2018 is to offer a physical-science course in eighth grade. The class now is offered at the high school and taken mostly by freshmen.

"This would allow our students to earn high school science credits in middle school and free them up to take more-advanced courses in high school," Culp said.

Grandview strives to offer more academic rigor to its students, he said.

"The data and results have shown that our students are able to rise to the occasion," Culp said.

A similar effort is underway to allow eighth-graders to take Algebra 1 or geometry.

"When you do something like this, you have to begin recalibrating classes at the sixth- and seventh-grade level to allow students to take physical science in eighth grade," Culp said "It takes a lot of planning."

The district has had success academically, as shown in its state report-card results, qualifying for the Advanced Placement Honor Roll two consecutive years, and in the above-average scores students earn on state exams and the ACT, he said.

"We don't want to rest on our laurels," Culp said. "Our goal is to continue to build on that success and get even better."

Truett said the approach is one that says, "if you can't achieve it here, you can't achieve it anywhere."

Grandview's small size, the high quality of its administration and teachers, the level of support it receives from the community and how well families prepare their children for school all impact the district's success, he said.

The district is preparing a quality profile for release in 2018, which serves as a companion to the state report card, Truett said.

The document offers data on various accountability measures that help define the academic areas that matter most in the community, he said.

"Some school districts create a quality profile as a public-relations document and for others, it serves as a goal-setting document," Truett said. "We're looking at it as a goal-setting document. We want to use the data as an aspirational tool to spur us on to even greater success."