Whitehall looks at get 3 free deal for schools

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During a special Whitehall School Board meeting Nov. 29, board members fielded questions and received an update from Eugene Chipiga, planning manager for the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) about the possibility for the district to build all new schools.  

The commission provides funding, management oversight and technical assistance to Ohio districts for renovation and new construction in order to provide appropriate learning environments for the state’s school children.  

To date, $5 billion has been spent to provide about 500 new and renovated buildings, with more in the works.

Whitehall Board President Walter Armes explained that the purpose of the meeting was to bring everyone up to speed, and get an idea of some of the decisions the board will have to make.  

"We will see how we can re-discover ourselves," said Armes.  

Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy shared that the committees are planning informational coffee meetings to assist with the community engagement process, as she introduced Chipiga to the board.  

He explained that his role is to get an agreement in place with the district by mid-January.  The district needs to have a master plan submitted with a budget for the future project by March.  A project design is also required from the board.

Dobbert-Meloy reminded the board that  of the approximate $65 million cost, state funding would cover 62 percent, while the community would have to provide 38 percent through a bond issue.  

"We like to think of it as buy-two-get three-for-free," Dobbert-Meloy commented.

The current buildings are costing the district about $600,000 a year to maintain, and the superintendent predicts that in a couple of years it will rise to $1 million.  

Whitehall is also the only district in Franklin County that cannot provide air conditioning for its students because the systems are too antiquated.

The superintendent stated that she has been asked by several people whether the high school’s auditorium could be kept, and with a new building around it, as well as the alternative gymnasiums.  

Chipiga said that it is an option.  It equals about one-third of the building.  If the district chose to renovate the auditorium, it would be at their cost, except for life safety components, such as exit lights, and wiring.  

The possibility was also discussed of building one larger elementary school to house students from both Kae Avenue and Etna Road buildings.  The middle school and high school could be combined into one facility, as well.

Dobbert-Meloy said that she would have to study the transportation costs that would be involved by combining schools.  

Chipiga informed the board that should they combine some of the schools, they would also be free to sell any properties that were no longer needed.  He noted that combining buildings allows for more flexibility.  

Dobbert-Meloy said that she wants to know what the community desires for their city, and she wants them to feel comfortable with whatever decisions are made.   

After the board digests all input from residents, it will then decide whether a bond issue will appear on the November, 2009, ballot.  If approved by the voters, it will be about a five-year process to build the schools, according to Chipiga.

Arrangements will have to be made for alternative housing for students during construction, which will most likely mean modulars.  

Dobbert-Meloy pointed out that C. Ray Williams pre-school is soon going to be a money-pit.  The pre-school has a waiting list for enrollment, and due to space constraints, they have to use Kae’s gymnasium.  

She would like to see a wing included to one of the new buildings that would provide a new facility for the pre-school.  That would require additional millage to a bond issue.  

Enrollment is up for Whitehall this year, after experiencing a downshift.  About 150 students are enrolled in charter schools.  Columbus is the only district in the area that offers an open enrollment policy to the surrounding districts.  The possibility of new schools could offer hope of bringing new families and businesses into the community, as well as enticing those enrolled in charter schools to return to Whitehall.

Chipiga shared a list of other eligible uses of project funds, which included data/computer hardware, furnishings (desks, etc.), technology infrastructure and wiring, grading for softball fields, grading and seeding for multipurpose fields, surveys, various insurances, construction and soil borings/testing, to name a few.

For information, visit the web site www.osfc.state.oh.us.  

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