Staff Writer

Liberty-Benton Local Schools on Tuesday presented four options to the community for renovation and new construction, and will seek district residents’ input on whether to proceed with one of the ideas — or do nothing.

All the options address an aging elementary/middle school that includes modular units for two grade levels.

The school district’s share of each plan ranges from $18.7 to $19.9 million.

Josh Predovich, a project manager with SHP Leading Design, presented the possibilities at a public meeting Tuesday night. The Columbus-based firm works almost entirely with public school districts, he said.

The options

Predovich gave details on four options, involving varying amounts of renovation and new construction.

• Option 1: Renovate and add to the elementary/middle school. Also, renovate the high school.

Grades five and six are currently housed in 10 modular units, middle school Principal Bruce Otley said after the meeting. This option would get those students inside a building.

The part of the school dating to 1921 would be demolished, and about 55,000 square feet would be added.

The state would pay $17,698,694, and Liberty-Benton would pay $18,762,368.

High school renovations in this option, and all the others, would be completed according to an assessment done by the state.

• Option 2: Build a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building. Renovate the high school.

The new building would be about 120,000 square feet.

The state would pay $19,314,104, and Liberty-Benton would pay $19,661,990.

• Option 3: Build a new pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade building. Renovate and add to the high school to create a sixth- through 12th-grade building.

The younger students would get a new school of about 75,000 square feet. About 40,000 square feet would be added to the high school, and students in grades six through eight would move to that building.

The state would pay $18,878,620, and Liberty-Benton would pay $19,929,438.

• Option 4: Renovate and add to the high school to create a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade building.

About 106,000 square feet would be added to the high school so that all students would be housed in one building.

The state would pay $19,819,216, and Liberty-Benton would pay $18,723,634.

• The fifth option is to do nothing, aside from necessary maintenance. Maintenance to keep students “warm, safe and dry” is projected to cost about $13.9 million to $18.1 million over 10 years, Predovich said.

Most of that, $11.3 million to $14.7 million, would be at the elementary and middle school.

If the district chooses option 2 or 3, the new building would likely be built at the high school campus, Predovich said.

Liberty-Benton recently purchased 10 acres south of the high school along Hancock County 9.

In options 2, 3 and 4 — those that make the current elementary/middle school building obsolete — the district could keep the building, demolish it, or sell it. In order to sell the land, the district would have to move transportation operations to the high school campus.

Elementary, middle and high school students would have their own sections within any combined buildings, Predovich said.

The funding

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission would cover 57 percent of construction and renovation costs, with Liberty-Benton paying 43 percent.

That’s the 2019 split, which is better for Liberty-Benton than in the past.

Funding would have been 50-50 in 2016. That improved to 51 state-49 local in 2017 and 55-45 in 2018.

The state won’t pay for 57 percent of everything, though. That’s why the price tags for Liberty-Benton in options 1, 2 and 3 are higher than what the state would pay.

The major wrinkle is that the state considers Liberty-Benton High School to be “oversized” for the number of students who go there.

But it’s not oversized in terms of classroom space, Predovich said. The designation comes from the square footage of spaces like the media center and auxiliary gym.

And there’s no way the district could have known in the early to mid-1990s, when the high school was planned and constructed, that it was oversized. Those “rules of the game” didn’t exist yet, but the district has to play by them now, Superintendent Mark Kowalski said after the presentation.

The state’s policy for extra space is to move students into it, rather than building new classrooms for them.

In Liberty-Benton’s case, even though the extra square footage is not in actual classrooms, the state would have all the eighth-grade students and 11 — yes, just 11 — seventh-grade students move to the high school building, a point that drew laughter from the audience of about 70 people.

Because Liberty-Benton is not going to move one grade and a sliver of another grade into classrooms that don’t exist, the district would have to locally fund the full cost of classrooms for those students.

Those classrooms — plus any other local desires, like a bigger gym than the state recommends — mean Liberty-Benton’s share ends up being more than 43 percent of the final project cost.

Option 4 provides some flexibility for the seventh- and eighth-grade issue that the first three options can’t. That’s how the local cost manages to be below the state cost.

In determining what it will pay for, the state factors in assessments of the facilities and projected enrollment.

There are some school district necessities that the state does not pay a share of, like transportation facilities.

If renovating a building would cost at least two-thirds of the cost to replace it, it should be replaced, the state says.

The elementary/middle school hovers just above that mark. Replacement would cost $22,502,020, and renovation would cost about 68 percent of that.

The high school’s renovation needs total just 16 percent of the replacement cost of $27,004,894.

Births and open enrollment factor into the enrollment projection. So does housing — to an extent. Potential subdivisions don’t count if construction hasn’t started.

If actual enrollment is significantly more than projected, there are several ways Liberty-Benton could address that.

The district could choose now to put more classrooms in the plan, at local cost. Or new classrooms could be slightly smaller than the state-recommended 900 square feet, and the “leftover” space could be used toward additional rooms.

In the future, Liberty-Benton could choose to cut back on open enrollment to accommodate growth within the district’s boundaries. Also, new construction would be designed with potential additions in mind.

Predovich also pointed out that 50 extra students might sound like a lot, but spread over all grade levels, it doesn’t affect each grade much.

Next steps

Predovich will give another presentation — the same as Tuesday’s — at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Benton Ridge council hall.

On Friday, the district will post an online survey that will be open through Nov. 23. Paper copies will be available at all offices in the district.

“We need community input on this,” Kowalski said after the presentation. “It’s the community’s choice on what we’re going to do if we move forward.”

There will be another community presentation in December.

If the community and the school board want to proceed, a tax issue could be placed on the May ballot. The district would have to file with the board of elections by Feb. 6, 90 days before the May 7 election.

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