December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Official: River site likely won’t work for new Lorain High

LORAIN — A representative from the state commission overseeing the building of the new Lorain high school informed school officials Monday the Black River building site was likely untenable due to funding restrictions.

Senior Project Administrator Gary Kasper of the Ohio School Facilities Commission admonished the Lorain school board after reviewing requirements for the building site — known as Site 3 — and finding the project’s costs are likely to exceed the approximately $76 million budget.

“There will be costs that will be locally funded. The costs fall outside the parameters of what the Ohio Schools Facilities funds,” Kasper said. “I’ll put it to you bluntly: We’ll be putting a lot of money in the ground and for services and utilities that will never be seen, will not be able to be used by the children in the building.

“I’m not saying that this is not a buildable site. … If you had unlimited resources you could build a McDonald’s on the moon, but we have limited resources. From the information that I have received if you would build a chart with pluses or minuses, with this site the minuses far exceed the pluses.”

Kasper added that many design elements required for Site 3 do not fall within the commission’s funding parameters and would have to be paid for by the district, and the school’s treasurer must sign a local funding initiative certifying that funds are available. According to Dana Strizzi, an architect with Hammond Construction, those costs possibly could be around $3 million.

As Strizzi has noted in the past, the building on Site 3 will have to be built upward as opposed to outward and could be three to five stories. Tests also have shown that a specialized foundation will be required to support the building’s footprint. A specialized generator, water tank and pump also would have to be built, all of which are not included in what the commission can fund, according to Kasper.

Board member Jim Smith said that last week Treasurer Dale Weber, who is on vacation this week, told Smith that he could not sign any form certifying the availability of funds because the cash-strapped district is facing an $8 million deficit and has no additional funds available for the construction project.

“We don’t want to start something that we can’t finish,” Kasper said.

Although the board voted to send the program of requirements for Site 3 down to Columbus it so far has only been reviewed by Kasper. The board must now decide if it wants to rescind sending the program for review. They also must decide whether to begin exploring the old Admiral King High School site, the only other site available for the construction of a new high school, according to Paul Biber, the board’s vice president.

Biber, however, said there could be potential space and soil problems with the old Admiral King site that potentially could cost the district money as well.

“The red flag to me as a board member is if something happens that comes up outside of guidelines then we’ll be responsible for creating an escrow fund to cover not necessarily the costs, but potential costs regardless of where the site is,” Biber said.

Biber also was skeptical that the potential costs at the Black River site would exceed the project’s costs.
“Even in the worst-case scenario, we’re not putting a five-story building on that site; it’s not an unbuildable site,” Biber said.

He added that the old Admiral King site is three stories high and that there is an underground stream that runs through the site that causes moisture to accumulate in the auditorium’s orchestra pit from time to time. The presence of the stream could be a major cost prohibitive factor for that site, Biber said.

Smith said he felt time was running out for the school board to make a decision and said he felt the Black River site was no longer a reality.

“We didn’t even authorize due diligence to begin (looking at the old Admiral King site), we didn’t do anything. … What’s there to talk about with $3 million in unpayable costs?” Smith asked. “I don’t know if anybody understood what was going on.”

Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said the board has some “tough decision to make” in light of Kasper’s presentation.

“They did promise the community that they would try to build the school on a neutral site. Certainly there’s no hidden agenda to any of them,” Atkinson said of the board members. “We’re hoping that that would really work out. So I think they have heard some information and have some tough decisions to make ahead.”

Biber called a committee meeting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the board’s options.

Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (440) 329-7144 or kbushinski@chroniclet.com.