The first two parts of the Columbus school district’s Facilities Master Plan are progressing on schedule and on budget, Carole J. Olshavsky, senior executive in charge of the construction and renovations program, told the school board April 1.
The projects were launched after the bond issue for school renovations and replacements was approved in November, 2002.
West High School, Highland Elementary School, and Hiltonia Middle School were three of 42 schools that received a new roof and West Mound Elementary was one of the renovated schools opened last summer.
"These new buildings represent a radically different approach to school design and construction. Built as a 21st century learning environment, the design of these schools is intended to enhance opportunities for teaching and learning, rather than just providing shelter from the elements," said Olshavsky.
Olshavsky said any new building renovations from the third segment of the master plan on would feature not only things such as climate controls, high-performance heating and cooling, state of art technology and safety and security features, but also will require a silver certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) due to Ohio Schools Facilities Commission’s revised guidelines.
LEED takes a "green" approach to construction.
"It’s more than just designing a building. There’s the impact on the community, transportation issues you take into account, trying to come up with ways to design projects so there’s less of a need for public or private conservation and the future energy conservation features of the building," said Olshavsky.
Olshavsky said LEED is a program started in the U.S. Green Building Council, which is a non-profit organization, to encourage buildings to be designed and built in a more green fashion.
Schools would have to receive a minimum rating of 26 points to get LEED certified and the current schools have been estimated to fall within 19 to 23 points.
"I think with a little more due diligence, a lot (of schools) become really close to getting a LEED certification," said Olshavsky. "We get a lot of credit for reusing some of our historic buildings versus new construction, but there are other things we need to be doing; recycling used building materials and that type of thing, going forward. That would probably take us from a 23 to a 26 with no problem."
Over $360 million has already been dispersed to more than 150 leading contractors for segments one and two of the FMP. Olshavsky said the average cost of construction to include the LEED would be two percent, so for the normal construction cost of $200 a square foot, Olshavsky estimated the LEED certification would make that cost increase by ten dollars a square foot.
"Over a long time that’s a benefit. That’s an insignificant cost in terms of the overall amount. If you look beyond the immediate building, the city, the global impact, that two percent is negligible and the state will co-fund that additional cost," said Olshavsky.
Board member Shawna Gibbs asked how the district calculates the number of students going to each school, to ensure the new buildings are big enough.
Superintendent Gene Harris said the district has a master plan revision strategy in which the enrollment projects are reviewed on an annual basis to ensure they have the right number of buildings for the appropriate number of students.
Harris admits ensuring adequate space for students is a challenge.
"We are finding that in some of our communities, folks are coming back to those communities, so while we have planned for 350-400 (students), we find ourselves having to plan for over 400 in the case of a 350 school, that kind of thing. It probably will also call us to review our choice policy and how much choice parents will have based on the enrollment in those neighborhoods," said Harris.
Closing the gap
In other board news, Harris discussed a new grant titled Closing the Achievement Gap, which is an initiative started by Governor Ted Strickland to address the issue of African-American men having fewer opportunities due to a lower graduation rate.
This initiative will mainly focus on urban districts and will require use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.
"What we have to do, because the grant is using TANF funds, one has to expend the money and then be reimbursed. And we’re very cautious about that. After talking with the treasurer, Mr. Kinneer, we thought it made sense to go with two schools and then we’ll look at the results and if this opportunity continues to present itself in the planning process and we can expand that to other schools, we’ll certainly do that."
Harris said for this grant, students have to be TANF-eligible and the funds have actually been expanded to first time ninth-grade males, regardless of ethnicity.
"The goal is to get them to school on time, give them the support they need and get them out of ninth-grade on time. We know that students from ninth to tenth who get to school on time are almost two times as likely to graduate from high school than those who did not, so this provides that support," said Harris.