ELYRIA — A Thursday meeting is helping Elyria Schools move more favorably toward sticking with a five-school plan that matches what voters approved in November 2016.
Superintendent Tom Jama said the district’s core team met with its architect and construction manager, an Ohio Facilities Construction Commission representative and Paul Rigda, the district’s former superintendent and project consultant, to hash out how Elyria can build five schools as planned and stay within budget. While the meeting didn’t produce a new plan to present to residents, Jama said in a phone interview later in the day that a lot of work is happening.
“Things are looking very favorable right now, but obviously it will take some time before we know for sure,” he said.
Jama said the design team is reviewing all options in the current master plan including classroom design and construction components in an effort to bring the original plan to fruition. Buildings may be downsized, design concepts could be changed and construction options may get eliminated, he said.
But the focus on 21st-century learning will remain.
“We just may not have some of the bells and whistles,” he said. “But our teachers will have the spaces needed to provide 21st-century education. That is something I will not back away from.”
It’s been less than a month since school board members learned that cost overruns in the school project could be upward of several million dollars. To cut costs, an earlier proposal suggested reducing the building plan from five schools to three schools.
Under that proposal, a planned kindergarten-through-fourth-grade elementary school on the site of Ely Elementary School on Gulf Road and a planned kindergarten-through-fourth-grade elementary school on the site of Hamilton School on Middle Avenue would have been the casualties in a fight to stay within the budget of roughly $127 million. The proposal called for the district to instead build three campus-style buildings with one each on the west, east and north sections of the city and move preschool students into the west campus in Elyria Township.
Since then, school board President Kevin Brubaker has said he wants to see budget projections that include the planned elementary school on Middle Avenue. Residents on Elyria’s south side flooded a school board meeting to voice concerns about potentially losing elementary education in the neighborhood and an online petition urging school officials to stick with the original five-school plan garnered nearly 500 signatures.
Even Mayor Holly Brinda has come out to urge school officials to build the five new schools, a plan that she has repeatedly called transformational for the city.
Jama said Thursday that he and the team working on the plan have heard every voice and are listening.
“What I heard the community say is ‘we want a school on the south side’ and they want five schools and we will do everything possible to do that and to keep 21st-century learning at the forefront.”
Jama said it will be another four to six weeks before more is known, but as numbers are crunched nothing will be off the table.
“Right now, it is favorable for five schools, and each day that goes by it gets more and more favorable,” he said. “What I do know is when we go back to the residents with what we come up with, I will be able to say that nothing was overlooked in getting us to the point where we will be.”
City officials also are looking to see if they can do more to lessen the load for the district.
City Council is looking at a proposal to reduce its plan review fees for the school district. Brinda proposed a 50 percent reduction on plan review fees and charging for a plan review only if the district has to resubmit building plans. This change would save the district about $250,000 and charging them for a plan review would save another $40,000.
This would be on top of a 20 percent reduction on building permit fees Council approved for the project in 2017.
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