The Reynoldsburg Board of Education agreed Jan. 15 to waive the competitive bidding process in order to fast-track renovations at the Livingston Avenue high school in preparation for the district's new 9X Impact freshmen experience.

The board voted unanimously to authorize Chris Reed, the district's director of operations and services, to work directly with Schorr Architects on plans for the building.

The project is a race against time -- the next school year starts Aug. 19 so July 26 is a "critical completion date" for the building to be ready for students, Reed said.

"To make these critical timelines, we feel the district must declare this project an urgent necessity," he said. "If this is not ready by the start of school, then it's failed."

Ohio law allows districts to waive competitive bidding in cases of "urgent necessity." Doing so will expedite the process by up to three weeks and is not expected to increase costs, Reed said.

There are no estimates yet on what the project will cost, according to Valerie Wunder, the district's communications director.

"We are in the process of getting estimates and expect to have more information by the end of February," she said.

Schorr will design the new space and select a general contractor. Plans are expected by mid-February, said Victoria Newell, an architect on the project.

The general contractor still will be required to submit a bid and must receive board approval. That could happen as soon as next month.

"Hopefully, we will have a contract that maps out everything -- the entire cost -- and we'll be able to hit the ground running in March," Newell said.

Renovations include some previously planned "TLC" items such as replacing an elevator, painting and removing lockers, while other upgrades will be driven by the new 9X Impact.

Those changes include relocating second-floor lab space, knocking down some walls and replacing others with roll-up style doors to allow for flexible collaboration space.

Plans also call for the 9X Impact to have its own entrance, office and administrative team.

All incoming ninth-graders will be assigned to Reynoldsburg High School's Livingston Avenue campus next fall.

Instead of choosing one of four high school academies at the end of eighth grade, all ninth-graders will be together as freshmen in the new 9X Impact program, which will be housed on the building's second floor.

An attendance imbalance between the Livingston Avenue and Summit Road campuses has been a problem for several years and the district already was planning for renovations to its Livingston campus so a freshmen-focused academy made sense, officials said.

"It's born out of this need to solve a problem with overcrowding at the Summit campus, but it also serves to lay a better foundation for our freshmen," board Vice President Debbie Dunlap said. "It's very difficult to make that transition from eighth grade and those smaller schools to high school."

Freshmen will now have an entire year to decide on a focus for the remaining three years of high school. Previously, eighth-graders attended a selection night program before making deciding which high school academy to attend:

* (HS)2: a STEM-based approached to health and human services

* BELL: a college prep course focusing on business, education, leadership and law

* e-STEM: science, technology, engineering and math-based learning

* Encore: focusing on performing and visual arts

"Sometimes even their own parents think 'Oh, my gosh, this is huge. My child has to make this very important decision as a ninth-grader and it's going to impact the rest of their high school.' With this, they'll have an entire year in which there will be presentations, field trips and experiences so they can make a better selection," Dunlap said. "We're not reinventing the wheel but we are going to do things differently -- giving kids a much better foundation to be successful in high school and beyond and that's what's really exciting about it. This is probably one of the biggest projects we've done in years."

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.