ELYRIA — A proposal to nix two planned elementary schools is causing an uproar in the community, and at least one school board member said he hopes the district can find a way to keep its promise to build a school on the city’s south side.
Board President Kevin Brubaker said school board members only learned Saturday that cost overruns in the project could be upward of several million dollars.
To cut costs, a proposal is on the table to reduce the building plan from five schools to three schools with a planned kindergarten through fourth-grade elementary school on the site of Ely Elementary and a planned kindergarten through fourth-grade elementary school on the site of the old Hamilton School becoming the causalities in a fight to stay within the budget of roughly $127 million.
Instead, the district would build three campus-style buildings with one each on the west, east and north ends of town and move preschool students into the west campus in Elyria Township.
Before the board makes a final decision, Brubaker said he wants to see budget projections that include the planned elementary school on Middle Avenue.
“I want us to look at all avenues to get that building built,” he said. “My objective is to find a way to fund the construction of the school.”
Brubaker said the board will know more Wednesday when members meet at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s Administration Building, 42101 Griswold Road. The meeting originally was set to go on the road to Ely Elementary, but school officials said they believe attendance will be high as residents are just learning about the budget overruns. The anticipation is many parents will attend to voice their concerns.
“The meeting was moved back to the board offices because we want to make sure everyone can be heard and seen, and I didn’t think that was possible in the elementary school gymnasium,” Brubaker said. “We will allow everyone who signs up to speak to address the board if the number is three or 20.”
Residents have until five minutes before the meeting starts to decide if they will address the board. They must sign in with their name, address and topic they wish to discuss. They are given five minutes to speak.
Mayor Holly Brinda said during Monday’s City Council meeting that she also has spoken with school board members and Superintendent Tom Jama about the dilemma the district is in. While she said she sympathizes with the board’s plight, in her opinion, they need to do their due diligence find a way to build the promised school on Middle Avenue.
“That was promised to residents and it’s needed,” she said. “It’s needed for access to education. It’s needed for access to resources, and it’s needed because early education is important in this community.”
Brinda said the board has to exhaust all financing options — including scaling back the stadium and pushing for additional state funding.
“It isn’t our school district’s fault they are raising construction and material costs, but we need to find a way to make that particular school happen.”
Brinda told residents to use every avenue to communicate this to school board members. The south side community is mobilizing to secure a neighborhood school.
Prompted by Saturday’s discussions by the board, Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, is staging a 5th Ward community meeting to specifically address the school issue at 5:30 p.m. today at Jones Chapel A.M.E Church, 343 17th St., Elyria.
“I want to meet with the residents to hear their perspectives on the proposals and tell them what I know,” Madison said. “I have a meeting with (Superintendent Tom) Jama before the meeting to get the most updated information.”
Madison said the meeting also will allow residents to plan how to constructively let board members hear them through phone calls and letters to the editor.
Brubaker said board members will not vote on the proposal to alter the master plan Wednesday.
The district has only started preliminary work at the Northwood Campus on North Abbe Road and work on the stadium.
The projected cost overruns in the construction project do not affect the $14 million multisports athletic complex, which the district is building as a separate, all locally funded initiative.
In November, school officials signed a construction manager-at-risk agreement with the three companies working together to build the new facilities that set the cost for the first phase of the complex at $14.2 million. Phase one includes the turf football field/soccer field, practice fields, competition track, grandstands, concessions, restrooms, some parking areas and the infrastructure.
A “not to exceed” stipulation put the risk of managing the budget on the backs of the contractors and not the district.
AECOM is the lead contractor on the project, working with Greenspace Construction Services and Scaparotti Consulting Group. Together, the three companies make up AGS.
Brubaker said the stadium project is on budget. He said the district is trying to work out a similar construction manager-at-risk agreement for the construction of new schools, but it can’t reach that agreement until the board decided exactly what it will build now that budget concerns are a factor.
“The costs have gone up since we passed the issue back in 2016 and the proposal we received was that it was cheaper to build larger schools on fewer lots than schools on separate sites,” Brubaker said.
To build the plan as originally designed, Brubaker said the figure could be as high as $135 million.
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