Smaller $30M school plan vetted by Amherst board of education

By Jason Hawk -

Steven Sayers

Steven Sayers

“Simply too big.” That’s how potential voters described the cost of building a new Amherst pre-kindergarten-through-fifth grade school.

“What we found is that we don’t believe we have enough support to move forward with that particular plan,” said district superintendent Steven Sayers, describing how the $45 million idea was polled in the past month with a survey. “We want to tell the community, ‘Yes, we heard you. We’ve scaled back. We’ve responded to that.’”

On Monday, the Amherst board of education decided to pursue a different building project — one that won’t mean a tax hike.

In a unanimous vote, education leaders agreed to scale back and ask Clark & Post Architects for insight on constructing a pre-kindergarten-through-third grade school.

In addition, Steele High would get significant renovations. Amherst Junior High would become a sixth-through-eighth grade building; Nord Middle School would be used for fourth and fifth grades; and Shupe, Powers, and Harris elementaries would be retired.

The latter three could be demolished, the cost of which would be covered by the state.

“Those buildings are beyond financial repair,” said school board member Ron Yacobozzi. “We understand there’s a lot of history there, but we can’t keep something that’s not going to be functional.”

Going with a smaller new school would cost about $30 million. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission is expected to extend an offer in January to pay for half that cost.

The other half could be covered by renewing an existing bond issue that’s nearing the end of its lifespan, Sayers said.

“To do something like this at no increase in cost, basically what that means is we have a bond issue coming off the books in a few years so we’d be asking the voters to keep giving us what they’ve been giving us since 2000,” he said.

Here’s another change: Under the previous PK-5 plan, property on Dewey Road in Amherst Township would have been the only school-owned land large enough for construction. The PK-3 building’s footprint would be small enough to fit near or on the Harris Elementary site.

A new, shared elementary school would be more energy-efficient. Running one building instead of three would lead to an estimated $500,000 per year operating savings, according to Sayers.

That’s roughly the annual savings the district realized when it shut down Shupe Elementary in 2012.

At the same time, officials are considering closing the board of education and administrative offices on Forrest Street, which would lead to more savings. The offices could move into a school.

“I don’t think people realize how bad a shape that office is,” said board president Teresa Gilles.

School board discussion Monday did turn to the possibility of using local tax dollars to pay for extra classrooms over what the OSCC would cover if there were sufficient need.

“We have an obligation to look at this thing long-term. We’re not going to get a second chance,” Yacobozzi said. “We have to look at this very carefully right now and grab everything we can. It’s a one-time shot.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Steven Sayers Sayers

By Jason Hawk