Staff Writer

Liberty-Benton Local Schools has narrowed its school construction and renovation options, based on feedback from a community survey.

About 54.7 percent of respondents favored the idea of building a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building and renovating the high school.

Renovating and adding to the high school to create a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade building was the second-highest option, chosen by about 27 percent of respondents.

Those results were revealed Wednesday evening in a presentation by Josh Predovich, a project manager with SHP Leading Design.

The other options were each preferred by less than 10 percent of respondents.

One rejected plan was to renovate and add to the elementary/middle school and renovate the high school.

Building a new pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade building and renovating and adding to the high school to create a sixth- through 12th-grade building was also unpopular.

A fifth option, doing nothing but necessary maintenance, also ranked low.

The survey was taken by 397 people, 297 of whom are parents of students in the district. That’s a response rate of about 8.6 percent of registered voters, Predovich said.

“That’s actually really good,” he said.

Most respondents, 342, answered “yes” to “Do you believe that new educational facilities of some sort are needed for the children of Liberty-Benton?” Twenty-five people answered “no.”

Some respondents did not answer every question.

New facilities were broadly supported by respondents with children and those without, said Shea McMahon, the SHP employee who ran the survey.

A second survey, focused on the two popular options, will launch soon, with a link available on the district’s website,

Enrollment projections have been updated since the district’s options were first presented last month. The old projections did not include data from the current school year.

Projections are higher now, which means the square footage of the buildings, and therefore the costs, have increased.

Liberty-Benton’s current offer from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission is that the state would pay 57 percent of construction and renovation costs, with the school district paying 43 percent.

The local cost for a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building and renovating the high school is $20,639,978. That includes both the local share of 43 percent and certain other costs that the state does not pay any part of.

That cost is up from $19,661,990 in the November presentation.

Creating one pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade building would cost the school district $19,106,199.

This option cost $18,723,634 under the previous enrollment projections.

Despite the cost increases, the enrollment projections do contain a bright side for the school district: The high school is now considered less “oversized” by the state. That’s good news because the state’s method for handling extra space is to move students into it, and that wouldn’t have worked for Liberty-Benton.

The extra square footage wasn’t in classrooms, yet the state would say all eighth-grade students and 11 seventh-grade students should move to the high school. Since the district wasn’t going to do that, it would have to fully fund classrooms for those students.

Now that projected enrollment is higher, the state considers the high school’s size more justified, and there are only 43 students that the state says should move. That means fewer classrooms that Liberty-Benton has to fully fund outside the 57/43 split.

This is a factor in the most popular option, building a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building and renovating the high school. If the high school is a separate building, it can have “extra” space that the state wants filled. If all grades are in one building, that’s not an issue anymore.

No decision has been made yet on what type of tax issue would fund a construction project. SHP will make a presentation to the school board later this month, and the school board could take action in January.

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