July 29, 2014

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Oberlin seeks input on schools

OBERLIN — District officials want to see how voters would feel about a potential bond issue to pay for new school buildings.

An upcoming community meeting will offer more information on replacing or renovating the four existing Oberlin school buildings. Set to take place 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Zion Community Center, the meeting will give residents an opportunity to hear from school officials and the district’s architects on available options.

Superintendent John Schroth said the district, which has roughly 1,000 students, is thinking of new schools because it foresees an offer from the Ohio School Facilities Commission in 2014 or 2015 at the latest. The state agency, which was put in place to ferry state construction dollars to districts and monitor building projects, is projected to offer Oberlin up to 22 percent of the funding needed for new schools.

The district’s taxpayers would have to fund the remaining 78 percent through a bond issue attached to property tax bills.

“We are doing this now, having these talks now because our number is coming up,” Schroth said. “There are maybe five districts ahead of us in the program. Our main emphasis now is to just be prepared when that happens and be proactive in the process.”

Currently, four schools make up the Oberlin district. There are two elementary schools — Prospect was built in the early 1960s and renovated in the 1980s and Eastwood was built in the 1960s.

Oberlin High School was built near the same time as the elementary schools, and Langston Middle School, built in 1923, is the district’s oldest building. It was last renovated in 1983.

Schroth said there is no bond debt in the district. An estimate of how large of a bond issue the district will seek has not been established because the district needs to determine a direction. The options include building four new buildings, renovating existing buildings or building a new consolidated kindergarten-through-12th-grade building on the high school site.

Each option comes with a price tag. Architects will detail the cost for each plan at the community meeting.

However, Schroth said the state favors the one building option for a district of Oberlin’s size.

“But I can say we don’t own any property outside of the property we already own, and the community has already expressed the importance of the schools staying in the city,” Schroth said. “From our standpoint, the only option is to renovate or build new on existing sites.”

BNIM, a Kansas City, Mo.,-based architectural firm, on Jan. 9 presented a slideshow detailed how the current buildings are costly to maintain and operate, are too big for a district of Oberlin’s size and do not offer flexible space needed for 21st century teaching methods.

“We’re fortunate that we are not overcrowded,” Schroth said. “But the buildings are extremely inefficient to operate.

All the school buildings also are approaching the 66 percent “renovation factor” benchmark that the state uses to determine whether a building is worth renovating or should be replaced outright.

Schroth said now is also a good time for a building plan because financially Oberlin is in good shape. The five-year forecast keeps the district in the black for the next few years with the earliest the district could go to the voters for additional operating money being in 2016.

Now, he just needs to hear from residents about what they’d like to see the district do.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.