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State helping Norwalk with plan for schools

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Norwalk's Board of Education should have a master plan detailing building renovations or new construction recommended by the state in May.

Once the master plan is complete, the district can decide if it is worth it to the district to complete all the renovations and construction suggested by the state to receive state funds for the project.

Carol Kempton, regional program consultant for Regency Construction Services, Inc., told the board the state pays for the development of the master plan. Once the building assessment is complete, she explained, her company will determine the cost of the recommendations approved in the master plan.

To get 52 percent of the recommended changes paid for by the state, she explained, the district would have to do everything the master plan suggested. The district is not obligated to make any renovations if the board doesn't feel it can handle the financial burden, she said.

"We may have two or three options," Kempton said.

"We're not planning on going to the voters" for new levies to pay for renovations or construction, board member John Lendrum said. But he said the master plan will be a valuable planning tool for the district.

Treasurer Kenn France said the district will be paying off the remaining $21 million borrowed to build the high school until 2028. "You have to look at how far in debt you want to put the district," he said.

Mike Kotansky, of ADA Architects, Inc., attended to explain to board members how he, another architect and a mechanical/electrical engineer will tour all six school buildings in the district in the next month. It takes about four hours to gather information for each building, he said.

"We will look at every square inch in the building," he said. The team will also check the condition of doors, windows, roofs, masonry and mechanical and electrical systems. Using a computer system, he said, the team will turn in their assessments. The state has contracted with Regency to develop recommendations based on state requirements.

Only buildings for classes are considered in the study so sports facilities, the bus garage and the administration building on Benedict will not be included in the master plan.

Lendrum asked that the administration building be included since it has been used for classes when space wasn't available in other buildings. "If this is overflow for students, this building should be done," he said.

Superintendent Wayne Babcanec said no classes were being held in the administration building during the current year, but performances are held in the auditorium and it was available on a contingency basis.

Eugene Chipiga, planning manager for the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said his agency probably wouldn't include the administration building, but the district could contract privately with Kotansky to include it during his assessment of other buildings.

Chipiga told the board that OSFC has paid a percentage of the costs to renovate or build more than 500 of the 3,500 public school buildings across the state in the past 10 years.

Each year the state puts out a priority list of public districts for state funding for renovations and new buildings. Norwalk moved from number 304 to 289 in the past year.

Kempton told the board that projected enrollment also will be a part of the master plan. She said the state uses a formula based on past growth, growth and building in the district and birth rates are all considered.

Babcanec said the district has seen steady growth over the past eight years, but he credited the building of the new high school with that growth and said he thinks enrollment will level out soon.

Kempton also told the board that elementary buildings with fewer than 350 students are not eligible for state funding for renovations unless the state would grant a waiver.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Gordon said League Elementary is the only building in the district affected by that rule as it has about 260 students. Kempton said she has never had trouble with a waiver not being granted to a small school that a district felt had historical value and was important to the district, but the decision is up to the OSFC.

"If you have a building that the community wants to keep for historical reasons, we can make suggestions," she said.

Chipiga estimated the average cost of building a new elementary school for 500 students is from $12 million to $15 million.

Kempton also told board members that Regency will include a three percent allowance for the total project to include items suggested for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating.

LEED rates buildings based on energy efficiency and addresses issues such as classroom acoustics, mold prevention and environmental assessment.

Chipiga told the board that including "green" resources could cut energy and water bills by up to 30 percent.

The district will have one year from the time the final master plan is approved to secure funding for completing all recommendations.

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