Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series this week answering questions posed about the school construction process. All parts of this series are being presented by Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel.
What steps has the Board taken to secure property for the new schools?
The Urbana City School District Board of Education asked voters to approve a bond issue in November of 2004 to construct a new preK through fifth grade elementary school and a middle school for grades six through eight. This was to be the first phase of building new schools for the District. The second phase, to occur an estimated 8-10 years later, would build a new high school. This initiative failed by 636 votes.
In early 2005, the Urbana Board of Education used permanent improvement funds to purchase land for the construction of new schools (at that time an elementary and a middle school) for the District. A total of 34.195 net usable acres was purchased from C. Vance Brand and Susan S. Brand at $15,000 per acre for a total of $512,925. The Board also spent $378,735.00 to purchase 25.249 net usable acres at $15,000 per acre from Connie Toomire and Sally Begin. In total 59.444 acres were purchased at this site for $891,660 plus closing costs.
In November of 2005 the Board of Education again asked voters to approve the same two-phase building plan. This levy attempt failed by 409 votes.
The following year, the Board of Education proposed the approval of a new, three-phase building construction plan. Phase one of the plan was to build a new preK through fifth grade elementary school. The second phase, for constructing a new middle school, and the third phase, a new high school, would have to be approved by voters in the future. This levy attempt failed by 128 votes.
For a number of years the Board of Education deferred on moving into the planning stage with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) for building new schools.
In 2012 the Board was notified that the local share of constructing new schools had fallen from the previous 56-57 percent to only 39 percent. The remaining 61 percent of the cost of new schools would be paid for through state funds from the OFCC. Based on this information, the Board decided to move forward with developing a new plan for constructing new schools in the District.
A Facilities Steering Committee (FSC), made up of community members, parents and district staff was created to review the options for new schools in the District. As part of their work, the FSC reviewed the current school locations and determined that none were usable as sites for future school buildings. Each of them, North Elementary, South Elementary, East Elementary, and Local Intermediate are not adequately sized for either a new elementary or middle school and most of them have site access safety concerns. The high school location was also reviewed for suitability, but it was determined that it would not be sufficient.
The OFCC sets guidelines for the minimum site area for new schools based on the number of students and grade-level configuration. The Facilities Steering Committee’s recommendation to building a single PreK through grade eight facility requires a minimum of 35 acres for a building site. The previously purchased Community Drive site was designated as the location for this school.
In November of 2014, the voters of the District approved a 7.15 mill property tax to support a $31.3 million bond issue for constructing a new PreK through grade eight school and a new high school. The State, through the OFCC funding, is considered co-owner of the project along with the Urbana Board of Education.
After an initial rough start to the planning process, the City and District began working to resolve issues with the development of the Community Drive property. Both the City and District committed many hours of time to meet to plan the new school site.
Discussions were in process to apply for a grant opportunity to support the construction of infrastructure for the project when the Ohio EPA sent letters to the City and District expressing concerns about the proximity of the selected school site to the closed City landfill. The presence of methane gas was the major issue presented by the EPA.
Because of this communication with the Ohio EPA, the Board determined it was necessary to consider an alternative site for the construction of the school. On May 9, 2016 the Board of Education agreed, contingent on site testing results, to the purchase from Barry Logan and Stephanie Lyons, 68.9 acres of land on the east side of Route 68 just north of Campground Road for $925,000 plus closing costs. At this time testing and site planning is ongoing.
Since there has not been a definitive timeline for when the issue with the methane gas at the closed landfill will be resolved, the Board is unable to determine what the next step will be for this site. The land owned by the Board at the end of Community Drive is currently being farmed under a rental agreement.
This op-ed written by Mr. Thiel has been printed exactly as it was submitted. For previously submitted op-ed pieces on this topic, log on to www.urbanacitizen.com and browse the Opinion section.