Marietta City Schools Board of Education hears rebuilding plan
MARIETTA — Marietta City Schools Board of Education members got a briefing Thursday from a construction firm and an architect about the district’s tentative plans for rebuilding schools, connected to a possible bond measure.
Jeff Tuckerman of Hammond Construction of Canton, and Tony Podojil, the educational planner for Lesko Architecture of Cleveland, laid out a large master planning report on the state of the district’s buildings and the potential cost of renovating or replacing them, along with a breakdown of the proportion that would be paid by the state and by local authorities.
The board is also considering an interim plan that would reorganize the district’s elementary school system to allow greater concentration on preparing kindergarten age students for first grade. Grades would be consolidated in schools, and one of the campuses would close under the proposal. The board is expected to consider that proposal in February. That could still occur before a potential construction project.
The plans were samples to give the board and administration an idea of what the process will look like, but the numbers attached to the plans were not in any way firm estimates or even ballpark figures.
“These are based on enrollments, and just a starting draft,” Tuckerman said. “We just like to present these plan options to show how master plans are organized. There may be several master plans, and this will show how to navigate them.”
All six classroom buildings in the MCS system meet the OFCC (Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, the state agency involved in building schools) threshold for replacement, which Tuckerman said as a rule of thumb is determined by calculating the cost of replacement and the cost of renovation. If renovations exceed two-thirds of the full replacement cost, the building is a good candidate for demolition and replacement, he said.
Determining what’s best will be a complex process, Tuckerman said. As of now, he said, the local share of the costs would be 61 percent, with the state contributing 39 percent. That breakdown is calculated through a complex formula that compares the number of students in the system to its tax base, a sort of moving target as enrollments and taxation numbers change.
He also noted that the state portion is restrictive, meaning there are some things it won’t fund.
The board looked at three sample master plans based an available data and information, ranging from renovating and adding to Marietta High School while demolishing the remaining five schools and building a new elementary school and middle school, to renovating and adding to the high school, demolishing the other five schools and building a new middle school and three new elementary schools.
Although the three options include a range of possibilities, Tuckerman said the board might be looking at several more and he urged them to pursue them, even if at first glance they appear unsuitable.
“Sometimes you might think it’s not a viable option, but you need to explore it so that at some point if you need to explain to someone else why it isn’t viable, you can do that,” he said.
Another wrinkle in the board’s task involves land and locations. Superintendent Will Hampton noted that Phillips and Harmar elementaries are built within flood plains, and Tuckerman said the state would not finance any renovations or rebuilding in flood zones, meaning that neither of those schools could be renovated with state assistance, nor could new schools be built on the same property.
Washington Elementary is another peculiarity, Hampton said, because it’s built on city-owned property — the district owns the building but the city owns the land.
Both consultants advised the board to develop at least two committees — facilities and finance — to keep the project moving. Podojil told the board that it also needs to consider the bonding capacity of the district.
“You can’t exceed that without approval,” he said, and advised the board against going up to the district’s full capacity, in case more money is needed further down the road.
Doug Mallett, a new board member who was elected president at the organizational meeting earlier this week, asked the consultants whether community members with expertise in some of the fields important to the project should be recruited as advisors or brought into the project in some other capacity.
“Be careful how many cooks you bring into the kitchen,” Tuckerman recommended. “Everybody thinks they have the secret sauce, thinks they can do better.”
The consultants also said the project could be done in pieces rather than all at once if the board determines that the community is opposed to a large bond issue but might settle for a series of smaller ones.
“That way, you can back into a number you think your community will support,” Tuckerman said. It is also a political challenge, he said: “You have to pass, say, three bonds instead of one.”
There are several risks with that, however: interest rates could go up, the costs of construction could rise and if the district enrollment continues to decline while the tax base in the district remains constant or goes up, the state’s portion of the total bill could change adversely.
“Every September the Ohio Department of Education publishes an equity ranking, showing who is eligible for what. That can change, because when you lose students, you look richer on paper. It’s kind of a death spiral,” Tuckerman said.
The next step, the consultants told the board, was to get exact enrollment figures to the state.
Podojil advised the board to get familiar with the master plan and the process, then begin establishing facilities and finance committees.
“That’s down the road, but at some point I recommend you get that together. You’re going to have to move beyond this room to sell it,” he said.
“Before that stage, you need to get really comfortable with it,” Tuckerman said.
The board is also considering an interim plan that would reorganize the district’s elementary school system to allow greater concentration on preparing kindergarten age students for first grade. Grades would be consolidated in schools, and one of the campuses would close under the proposal. The board is expected to consider that proposal in February.