The Grandview Heights City School District will seek voter approval in November of a $55.2 million bond issue to fund its school-facilities plan, along with a 1-mill operating levy.

The school board voted unanimously June 27 to approve a resolution declaring the necessity of the bond issue and placing it before district voters.

In his final facilities recommendation to the board, Superintendent Andy Culp presented a revised plan that includes constructing a new 4-8 building on the site of the current Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School, comprehensively renovating Grandview Heights High School and making limited upgrades to Stevenson Elementary School.

A facilities advisory committee had recommended last month that the original facilities plan suggested by Culp be revised to include more safety and security measures in the buildings and a connector linking the high school with the new 4-8 building.

The elementary school project would include only safety and security measures and make the building compliant with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The financial advisory committee "had intensive discussions about including Stevenson's comprehensive renovations as part of the ask we'll make of the community," Culp said. "It's not that there wasn't a desire to address the comprehensive facility needs at Stevenson. They went back and forth on it, reviewed the pros and cons. And in the end, the group felt the pros of moving forward with the comprehensive plan did not outweigh the need to make sure we present an affordable plan to the community."

The plan that will be presented to voters also does not include about $2 million in proposed improvements to the district's athletic facilities.

"The feedback we got from the exit tickets after our community engagement meetings, the online surveys of students and staff and phone surveys indicated that the athletic improvements didn't seem to have full support from the community at this time," Culp said.

From the beginning, the facilities process has been designed to be community-driven, and the final plan to be reflective of what the majority of the community wants and will support, he said.

The preliminary plan for the connector is that it would have two or three classroom spaces that could serve as "project-based" classrooms," Culp said.

Many students from the Edison/Larson building attend classes or programs at the high school; the connector would give them indoor access from one building to the other in poor weather conditions, he said.

The state currently requires any new school building to include a designated tornado shelter, and the connector also would serve that purpose, Culp said.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering whether to loosen that requirement, he added.

Along with the bond issue, the ballot measure also will include a 1-mill operating levy. That component is expected to address the district's financial operating needs for four years.

The operating levy would be one of the lowest ever in Grandview.

The district will be able to minimize the operating levy's millage because of the revenue that is beginning to come in from the tax-increment financing agreement for the Grandview Yard project, as well as measures used to increase staffing efficiency in the schools and lower increases in insurance coverage premiums, Culp said.

The $55.2 million price tag for the facilities plan is higher than the estimated $45 million to $50 million cost of the plan Culp first presented in the fall.

Some square footage was added to the 4-8 building plan to allow sufficient space to accommodate the most expansive projection of future enrollment needs based on revised residential development in the community, Culp said.

Rather than underestimate the potential enrollment increase, the district is looking to ensure it has sufficient classroom space to handle the largest possible enrollment bulge, he said.

"That adds to the cost, as does the inclusion of the connector building," Culp said.

The addition of safety and security components to the facility plan and the desire to use high-quality materials also helped boost the projected cost, he said.

"In the long run, using higher-quality materials will save money for our community," Culp said. "To put it in car terms, we're not looking to get Mercedes-Benz materials, but we do want to get Honda materials."

If the combined facilities bond issue and operating levy passes, residents would pay $239 more in taxes annually for each $100,000 in assessed property valuation, he said.

Whether the size and scope of the plan that will be placed on the ballot is too much for the community to support "will be the question," Culp said.

"Residents will be have to make the decision whether this plan and the three-year facilities process we've gone through has their trust and confidence," he said. "From the start, this has been a community-driven process, so we believe this is the community's plan.

"We're asking the community to step up and support improving our buildings to serve our students for the next 100 years, just as the community did 100 years ago to build the facilities our students are still attending today," Culp said.

School board President Jesse Truett said the board's unanimous vote to accept the plan and place it on the ballot represents its consensus that the facilities blueprint meets the district's needs, will be best to meet the needs of students and resulted from a process with integrity and that was comprehensive and community-driven.

"At the start of this process, the board wanted this to be a community-driven process," Truett said. "We ended up with more than 3,000 touchpoints through our community engagement meetings and the various surveys we conducted.

"That's led to a plan that really is the community's plan," he said.

Grandview officials looked at what other districts both in and outside of Ohio had done in their own school facility planning efforts, especially those that, like Grandview, were getting little or no state money for their project, Truett said.

"The ones that went through a bit of a shorter process involving only a small number of people and put something on the ballot after a six- or nine-month process had a much greater rate of failure with their levies," he said.

The more-deliberate process Grandview chose allowed more residents to have a voice, Truett said.

A group of residents dubbed Good for Grandview was formed after Culp presented his original recommendation.

Group members said at the time they were not opposed to an upgrade of the district facilities, but were concerned the size and scope of what was being considered would not be supported by a majority of the community.

After the financial advisory committee presented its recommendations earlier this month for an even more-costly facilities plan, Good for Grandview members did not rule out the possibility that they might mount a campaign against the bond issue.

Following the June 27 meeting, Good for Grandview member Steve McIntosh said the group would "abstain from any commentary at this time," adding there may be some updates from the group coming later this month.

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