Repair costs are gaining ground on building costs, leading an advisory group to ask the Amherst board of education Monday to raise a new pre-kindergarten-through-fifth grade school.
“Not only do our aging buildings not serve our children, our students logistically, they are expensive to operate,” said Chuck Winiarski, who sits on both the advisory committee and Amherst city council.
About 30 local residents met five times from March to June, weighing 10 scenarios for how to handle waning enrollment and aging buildings.
They suggested not only the new elementary school, but combining grades six through eight under one roof at Amherst Junior High, massive updates for Steele High, and closure of the Forest Street administrative offices, which would be moved to Nord Middle School.
The plan could roughly cost up to $40 million – that’s a high estimate to be safe, said district superintendent Steven Sayers – with the state expected to cover about a third of the price tag.
“Fortunately, we received a phone call (from the Ohio School Facilities Commission) about two or three weeks ago and this is a very exciting opportunity for our school district,” said Sayers. “It is very, very, very likely that we will receive a funding offer in January of 2016 that we should upgrade our school facilities and we should plan as if it will happen.”
Former school board member Valerie Neidert, who also sits on the advisory committee, said the state is recommending that Powers Elementary, Harris Elementary, and the former Shupe Elementary be replaced.
That’s because those buildings, while serviceable, aren’t in great shape and will soon need big-price tag repairs.
For example, Winiarski said it would cost about $10.1 million to renovate Powers to Ohio’s minimum standards or $13.5 million to replace it entirely (as a stand-alone building).
Shupe has been closed for several years but is still owned by the district. It needs significant repairs “in the not-too-distant future,” Sayers said.
Recommendations were informed by a long round of online surveying earlier this year, in which 657 people responded.
Vanessa Tey Iosue and Annie Morino of the consulting firm Burges & Burges said the goal of the survey was to help the schools develop a master plan addressing community needs and dealing with changing demographics.
When asked about using state cash to in part fund new schools:
• 68 percent of staff responded positively
• 59 percent of community members responded positively
• 63 percent of current parents responded positively
• 45 percent of non-parents responded positively (43 percent said they would need more information)
Tey Iosue said a phone survey will begin this week gauging attitudes among a sampling of registered voters.
The school district will have to work to convince voters that it runs lean, with the fourth-lowest taxes among all Lorain County school systems, she said.
Among community members and parents already surveyed, 76 percent say they are concerned Amherst school buildings are expensive to maintain and operate. Sixty-five percent are concerned about buildings that don’t reflect current enrollment – noting under-capacity classes at Amherst Junior High and outdoor trailers for a packed-to-overflowing Harris Elementary.
If voters support new construction, the district owns about 30 acres on Dewey Road.
A newer, more efficient school could save $800,000 to $1 million per year in operating costs, estimated school board member Ron Yacobozzi.
“That’s pushing operating levies off down the road,” he said.
The board did not vote Monday to pursue the new school plan.
Board president Teresa Gilles said the board would take the committee’s recommendation under advisement.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Vanessa Tey Iosue shares survey result information and talks about development of a master plan that includes a new preschool-through-fifth-grade campus.