Enrollment projections downsize school project

A new set of enrollment projections has significantly changed the scope of the London City Schools’ next construction and renovation project.

Originally, the district planned to build a new middle school for grades five through eight, add 10 classrooms at the new elementary school, tear down the old elementary school, and add two or three areas to and complete renovations at the high school. The work was to begin next year when the district is eligible to receive state funding through the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC).

Now, the extra elementary classrooms and spaces at the high school are off the table, and the district is awaiting approval of a waiver that will allow a middle school to be part of the plans, but only for grades six through eight. Renovations at the high school and demolition of the old elementary will remain part of the plan.

The changes came after the OSFC completed a new facilities assessment and enrollment projection in late August. The new reports are part of the process that takes place when a school district that has partnered with  the OSFC becomes eligible for state money.

The first OSFC enrollment projection was done in 1999 or 2000, prior to London’s first building phase, which consisted primarily of the construction of the new elementary school and was paid for by local tax money. At that time, the OSFC projected that each grade level would have 200 students by 2009 or 2010. The reality, Allen said, is that each grade level now has 170 to 180 students.

Due to the economy and housing market, OSFC’s new projection predicts no growth, stating that enrollment likely will remain at 170 to 180 students per grade level into the 2017-18 school year.

Allen disagreed with the projection and asked for a reevaluation. The state denied the request.

“I don’t want a new building and then two or three years later have to add on to it when the state funds are gone,” he said. “The OSFC projects are meant to be buildings you can occupy for 10 years without having to do anything significant to them. I don’t see that happening (with the downsized construction plan).”

Enrollment figures play a large role in how the OSFC determines funding. The formula takes the projected enrollment and multiplies it with the square feet needed per student. That number is then multiplied by the present-day cost to build to determine how much money the district gets, Allen said.

“We are at (the state’s) mercy, and it’s all driven by the projected enrollment and that formula.”

OSFC credits London City Schools with raising $27.1 million through local tax money for the first phase of the overall construction plan, Allen said. That quali-fies the district to receive approximately $23 million from the state. However, construction costs have gone up since 1999 when the district partnered with OSFC, Allen said, and $23 million does not buy today what it did back then.

As of Sept. 22, the district was waiting to receive OSFC’s official approval of the enrollment projections and approval of a waiver that would allow a middle school to be built despite the low projections. The approvals must be in place in time for the school board to approve a new final construction plan at its October meeting. These items must fall into place in order for London to remain on the fast track to receive state funding in 2009.

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