After a series of community forums throughout the Clear Fork Local School District, one thing remains clear, a definitive solution to the district’s elementary construction debate has not yet been reached.
What is clear in the Clear Fork Valley is that there are three distinct options for new elementary facilities that vary in both construction and operational costs.
While some residents and officials have their preferred option in mind, each of the three solutions presented to the public holds a series of pros and cons that the school board must carefully consider before making their decision.
Josh Predovich, project manager from the architectural design firm SHP Leading Design, presented the costs and specifics for each of the building options available for Clear Fork to those in attendance at last week’s public meetings.
The first in the series of three choices outlined by Predovich would construct one new elementary school building on a one of four potential sites located throughout the district.
“The one elementary school would house the 774 elementary students in the district,” he said during the Oct. 21 public meeting. “With that option we would do no new work at the high school or middle school.”
The project would cost about $22.1 million to complete.
The OFCC is the state commission responsible for spearheading construction projects among Ohio’s various agencies and public education facilities. The commission has worked with SHP Leading Design on previous projects throughout the state.
“We specialize in school construction and design,” said Pedrovich. “We have done over $ 3 billion in design over the past 10 years.”
The second of the design’s firm options is to build two new facilities in both Bellville in Butler in consistent fashion with the current Clear Fork elementary system.
“We would split the elementary students in the district down the middle,” Pedrovich said. “That would put about 387 students in Bellville Elementary and 387 students in Butler.”
The option would cost nearly $27 million and no new work would be done at the high school or middle school.
The third choice calls for construction of a new high school for grades 9-12. If the district chooses this option, middle and elementary school students would be relocated to the current Clear Fork High School. The project would cost roughly $40 million to complete and would require a local tax increase.
Despite the large initial cost of building new elementary schools, the district would likely be able to finance the first or second option for the project by renewing the current school tax levy for the next 20 years.
The current levy taxes 1 percent of residents earned income, which does not include IRA distributions, interest income, dividends, unemployment or capital gains.
The district will rely on 61 percent of each project’s funding coming from Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), the other 31 percent would be locally funded.
“When you talk about percentages you have to understand what that percentage means dollar wise,” Clear Fork Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said during the Oct. 21 public meeting. “That is 61 cents out of every dollar coming from the state for basic construction costs and 39 cents out of every dollar is coming locally.”
“Clear Fork is a not a typical school district,” Scott Ericson Director of Rockmill Financial said to the audience at the district’s Oct. 21 community meeting. “The district is very strong financially.”
“The district’s tax levy is a 1 percent earned income tax,” he said to those in attendance. “Renewing the 1 percent income tax will finance option 1 or 2. It also allows the district to continue to operate.”
However, the tax alone is not enough to finance option three, and it may only partially fund some locally funded initiatives (LFIs), which are defined as additions to the buildings such as extra classroom space and community auditoriums.
To finance the additional estimated $14 million needed for option three, the district would need to increase taxes.
Should the Clear Fork School Board decide to move forward with the elementary construction project, a renewal of the tax levy would be placed on the upcoming March ballot.
While first the Clear Fork Board of Education must decide a feasible elementary school option to present to district voters, board members along with SHP Leading Design need to decide on the most cost effective home for the potential elementary facilities.
“We are looking at five locations,” SHP Leading Design project manager Josh Pedrovich said of each property that is owned by the school district.
The potential sites are located the district owned Hamilton Hills property, the Oyster property, Clear Fork High School, Bellville Elementary and Butler Elementary.
A key factor in the decision is the fact that the district must fund the cost of bringing public utilities to any potential site lacking in gas, water, electric and sewer utilities.
“The state does not (fund) the cost of extending public utilities,” said Clear Fork School Board President Jim DeSanto. “This will increase the (construction) cost for sites not situated close to existing public utilities.”
“We are too much in the planning stages to know exact the costs (associated with any specific site),” Pedrovich said at the Oct. 21 public meeting.
Along with the potential startup cost issues at the undeveloped sites, the district’s developed locations also each pose issues.
Bellville Elementary School’s proximity to the village’s wastewater treatment plant was a cause of concern for several residents who spoke up during the course of the Oct. 21 public meeting. The odor caused by the facility was cited as a reason not construct a new elementary school on the site.
“We have had conversations with the village,” said DeSanto to the concerned resident. “They assured that they are taking care of the odor problem.”
“We have spent millions to correct the problem,” said Bellville Mayor Darrell Banks at the Oct. 21 meeting. “I can’t promise you it will quit smelling 100 percent, but we are working on it.”
The Butler Elementary School site could also pose an issue for Bellville residents should the district decide to construct a consolidated elementary facility at that location.
The sheer size of the 110 square mile district is a logistical issue for busing students from the farthest reaches of Clear Fork.
When asked about getting elementary students from Bellville to Butler, Clear Fork Superintendent Janice Wyckoff stated that “it would be quite a haul.”
The superintendent reminded those in attendance the district currently aims to avoid any school bus commute that is over an hour for students.
Despite questions from Clear Fork residents, no concrete decision was reached and the issue will be decided in the coming weeks by school board members.
“What I am interested in hearing from people on what is the best configuration for the community and the kids,” said DeSanto. He and Wyckoff urged residents to complete the district’s survey that was mailed to all registerd voters within the Clear Fork Local School District.
During the series of community meetings hosted by the school district, both parents and officials alike expressed concern with potentially combining Bellville and Butler Elementary.
One larger school would mean larger class sizes and a potential income tax drain on either Bellville or Butler depending on where the facility would be located.
“Smaller class sizes mean a better education,” Superiendent Janice Wyckoff said to audience members.
Clear Fork currently averages 17.6 students per classroom, which is well below the state average of 21.3 for elementary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“I came to Clear Fork and couldn’t believe the difference,” Kelly Stephens a first grade teacher at Bellville Elementary, who previously taught at a larger district. “There is a feeling of family in the hallways. You know everyone.”
Along with the potential for larger class sizes that would accompany a combined elementary school, the loss of tax revenue for Bellville or Butler could significantly impact village funding.
“We have two villages in our valley,” said Bellville Mayor Darrell Banks at the Oct. 21 community meeting. “If we decide to go with the one (elementary school), it will cost the villages a substantial amount of money. We will have to cut services.”
The school board is required by the state to make a decision within 30 days, in order to get a funding issue on the upcoming March ballot.
Josh Predovich, project manager from the architectural design firm SHP Leading Design, presented the costs for each of the building options available for Clear Fork to those in attendance.
Reach Jones on Twitter @Bellville_Jones or via email at email@example.com