District may modify plans for infrastructure improvements

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

South-Western City School officials say the district must look at modifying planned infrastructure improvements due to the rising cost of materials and supplies.

According to Treasurer Hugh Garside, recent estimates show the district has gone over-budget with its planned improvements on updating facilities and operations.

“As we have started to award contracts, the prices have gone up a lot and we have to take another look at the projects we will be able to do because of the effect COVID has had on construction prices,” he said after a January board of education meeting.

The planned improvements are a part of the district’s multi-million dollar allocation through The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). Last year, officials said the district was to receive approximately $61.1 million through this federal funding program – $48 million of which had been earmarked for needed maintenance upgrades to a number of its school buildings.

Garside said with the rising costs, the district now estimates it would have to spend $52 million to oversee all of the projects they had planned. Those projects include HVAC renovations at the five intermediate schools, reconfiguring space at Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods Elementary, constructing additional classroom space at the South-Western Career Academy, roof repairs or replacements at the high school recreational centers, and other chiller replacements.

“We have to bring that total down,” he said. “We cannot spend more than the ESSER Fund allows.”

He said the district does not currently know where the cuts to planned improvement projects would be made.

“We will have to convene with the new board, look through all of these planned projects, and determine which ones they want to prioritize.”

He said those determinations will likely be made during the board visioning session next month.

“That will give us some time to get into it more deeply,” said Garside.

The district will not be making cuts or other modifications to the other allowable ESSER fund uses. According to Garside, their most recent allocation of funds came with the requirement that 20 percent of the total sum be set aside to focus on student learning loss caused during the course of the pandemic.

The action the board will have to take, he added, will only involve their wish list of planned improvement projects.

In other news, the board held its organizational meeting prior to the regular meeting on Jan. 3. The board moved to select Cathy Johnson as its president and Anthony Caldwell to serve as its vice-president.

Johnson has been a member of the board since 2002. She has served as its president six times, including last year. Caldwell has been a member of the board since 2020. This is his first time serving as vice-president. They will both serve one-year terms.

In addition to the selection of its highest leadership roles, the board approved a fiscal action to set aside $35,000 from the general fund to establish a board service fund for fiscal year 2022-2023. Under the terms of the Ohio Revised Code, the fund can be used to pay expenses the board incurred in the performance of their duties or of their official representatives.

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