School building plans may involve land swap with city

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Phase II of London City Schools’ facilities plan hinges on the idea of a land swap with the City of London.

The idea is to abandon the current middle school on Walnut Street and build a new middle school on land along Route 38 across from the high school and elementary school. If the city approves the idea, the school district would trade its downtown campus property for the 50 acres the city owns on Route 38.

London City Schools Superintendent Steve Allen presented the idea to the school board on Dec. 17, emphasizing that the plan depends wholly on whether or not city officials are amenable to it. He said he has had two meetings with city officials to discuss the idea at which "they expressed interest." The next step, he said, is to talk to the city solicitor.

The plan is the work of a facilities planning committee that began meeting several months ago. The members come from the community as a whole and from the school. They are: Allen, Gary Branson, Gary Feliks, Sean Hughes, Fred Kolb, Eric Schooley and Colleen Sollars. Architects have served as consultants during the process.

The committee’s job was to review London’s Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC) construction project to see if Phase II should go forward as originally planned or if revisions were necessary.

The first phase of construction, which included construction of the new elementary school and renovations and additions to the high school, was completed with local funds, voted as a bond issue in 2001.

The OSFC will pay for the second phase; London is due to receive the OSFC funds in the next 12 to 18 months.

When planned several years ago, Phase II was to include renovation of the middle school and additions to the elementary and high school. Since then, the cost to renovate the middle school has increased to approximately 80 percent of the cost to replace it. When the cost to renovate exceeds 67 percent of the cost to build new, the OSFC strongly recommends new construction.

With that in mind, London’s facilities planning committee began looking at potential sites for a new middle school. They determined that the downtown site, even if the current middle school is torn down, does not have sufficient room. They also considered land in and around their Route 38 campus, including acreage owned by MTB and 17 acres owned by the city northeast of the school property. They finally turned their focus to the city-owned property on Route 38, with the possibility of also talking to the city about using the 17-acre site for an outdoor learning area and green space.

With a working plan, the committee now recommends that the following actions be taken:

o The board should begin discussions with the City of London about the property exchange.

o If the exchange idea goes through, the district and architects Steed, Hammond & Paul would create and submit a plan to OSFC to build a four-grade building (grades 5-8).

"There would be two wings, one for fifth and sixth grade and one for seventh and eighth grade, with shared common areas," Allen said. "We would treat it as two separate schools under one roof."

o The estimated cost of the four-grade middle school would be $17 million. London expects to receive $25 million from the state. The remaining $8 million would be used to expand the elementary and high school buildings.

o A meeting needs to be held with two board members, London Elementary School Principal Carol Daniels, London High School Principal Tim Keib, district Treasurer Britt Lewis, and Allen to finalize decisions on the elementary and high school additions.

Board members Nancy Smith and Eric Schooley volunteered to attend the meeting. Allen expects it to take place soon, allowing the committee to present final ideas on the additions at the Jan. 14 school board meeting.

Allen told the board that they do not have to feel rushed to accept the overall plan for Phase II, considering the release of state funds to pay for the project isn’t due for at least a year. He did express confidence in the solidity of the facilities planning committee’s recommendations.

"With this layout, this community wouldn’t have to acquire land and could probably add onto these buildings for the next 30 years," Allen said.

"This isn’t just a bricks-and-mortar decision. It’s not just a financial decision. It’s really an educational program decision," he added.

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