New storm shelter rule to cost up to $2.2M for 2 Clark County schools

April 08, 2018
  • By Parker Perry
  • Staff Writer
Shawnee High School. Staff photo

A new state rule likely will require Greenon and Clark-Shawnee local schools to build storm shelters that will cost a combined $2.2 million that the districts didn’t originally include in their new school construction projects.

As of Nov. 1, new Ohio schools must include a storm shelter, Greenon Superintendent Brad Silvus said.

“We fall into this category,” Silvus said. “It is unfortunate that we were not aware of this prior to passing our bond issue but we have to be in compliance with this requirement.”

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The Ohio Facility Construction Commission estimates building two shelters in the Clark-Shawnee district will cost more than $1.36 million and the shelter at Greenon could cost about $885,000. The state will pay a portion of that expense.

Clark-Shawnee spokeswoman Megan Anthony said the district estimates the shelters won’t cost that much, while Silvus said the Greenon estimate is what that district received.

“They have sent us multiple estimates,” Silvus said. “The numbers have changed and are likely to change again.”

Schools that started construction before Nov. 1 don’t have to follow the mandate. Urbana City Schools is set to open its new high school on Tuesday and is currently building an elementary school — both without storm shelters, Superintendent Charles Thiel said.

“We have designated locations for students to go to for severe weather events but we do not have specific storm shelters,” Thiel said.

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Urbana began construction before the mandate went into effect, Thiel said, so it doesn’t have to follow those guidelines.

The districts have contingency money built into their approved bonds for unforeseen costs, their leaders said, and have money to cover the expense. But that cut into money available to pay for other unaccounted for costs.

“We have locally funded monies that are able to be used,” Silvus said.

Shawnee plans on using contingency money, too, Anthony said.

Greenon voters approved a $36 million bond issue to build a new pre-k through 12th-grade school in May of 2017. The 6.98-mill bond costs a taxpayer who owns a $100,000 property a little more than $20 a month.

Clark-Shawnee voters passed a $37 million bond issue in August that will build a new districtwide elementary school and renovate Shawnee High School. It costs the owner of a $100,000 home a little more than $15 a month.

Those who have opposed the bonds said the extra expense isn’t surprising.

“There are always hidden costs,” Clark-Shawnee resident Alan Brown said. “I’m pretty disappointed.”

The new rule has created additional costs, Silvus said, but a shelter is probably a good idea in the long run.

“We want to have a building that safe and secure,” Silvus said. “The mandate will obviously ensure that it is storm shelter ready.”

An unknown cost

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The new rule originated with updated state building codes, said Rick Savors with the Ohio Facility Construction Commission. More than 30 districts in Ohio could be affected by the changes, he said.

“Project budgets for some recently implemented district projects were developed and approved well before the Ohio Department of Commerce adopted changes to the Ohio Building Code,” Savors said. “This code change impacted any district that intended to submit plans for new construction after Nov. 1, 2017, including districts that were not working with OFCC.”

The Ohio Facility Construction Commission oversees the planning, development, construction and renovation of public kindergarten through 12th grade schools that participate in its state funding program. The OFCC is paying about 30 percent for Greenon and Clark-Shawnee buildings.

“When a district puts a bond issue on the ballot, there are a series of steps it has to go through, and each of these has a legal deadline as to when it has to be done,” Savors said. “It can take months of planning leading up to a filing deadline of 75 to 90 days before the ballot issue, depending on what type it is.”

The OFCC had approved the Greenon budget on Jan. 26, 2017, and the budget for Clark-Shawnee on July 25, 2016, Savors said, well before the new mandate was announced.

The construction commission estimate for Clark-Shawnee is that the middle school/high school shelter will cost about $723,000 and the elementary school will cost about $637,000. The state will pay 30 percent of those costs, but that still would leave the district paying more than $952,000.

At Greenon, the district’ share of the cost is estimated at about $592,800.

Paying for the shelters

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The superintendents said contingency money built into the bond will pay for the shelters. The money was included in the original bond to cover unexpected costs, they said.

“We will have to pay for a portion of this shelter out of our local funds that were passed as a part of the bond issue,” Silvus said.

OFCC leaders have been working on a plan to help local schools pay for the storm shelters, Savors said.

“The OFCC will fund the state’s share of any increase in the project budget due to the new building code requirement,” Savors said.

The first cost estimates were approved by the construction commission at the October 2017 meeting, Savors said.

Though the OFCC is paying for part of the shelters, the local schools — and their taxpayers — will have to pay the majority of it.

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Keeping kids safe

The new mandate came from the Ohio Board of Building Standards. The shelter requirement is to ensure the safety of students and staff, Ohio Department of Commerce spokesman Brian Bohnert said.

“Customer service is a top priority, as is the safety of our students,” Bohnert said. “Our staff is always willing to assist anyone with questions or concerns they might have regarding this policy and how it affects their communities.”

The mandate originated from the International Code Council, Bohnert said.

“A national association specializing in the development of model building codes and standards saw a need to develop a rule requiring storm shelters in schools — particularly schools located in regions with a high risk of tornadoes,” Bohnert said. “Doing our due diligence to keep students in Ohio safe, the Board of Building Standards’ Code Committee took from the national model and included the storm shelter provision in the Ohio Building Code.”

The local schools weren’t alerted to the change until around October, SHP Leading Design Architect Charlie Jahnigen said, after the bond issues were passed. SHP is the architect on both the Greenon and Shawnee construction projects.

“We are still planning but both districts will be able to accommodate the requirement,” he said.

The shelters must be able to fit every student and staff member at the school, he said, and they can be used for a dual purpose.

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“They will 99 percent of the time be an educational space and then that 1 percent were it could be used for a shelter,” Jahnigen said. “It will be blended into the normal operations of the building.”

The Clark-Shawnee elementary school shelter may be its cafeteria and gymnasium, Jahnigen said, but it’s still in the planning stages.

A storm shelter will have to be built at the elementary school but the district isn’t required to build a storm shelter for the renovation of Shawnee High School, Jahnigen said.

“But we are exploring ways to ensure all students and staff are safe there, too,” he said.

In Greenon, planners are thinking about making locker rooms and a music room into a storm shelter, Jahnigen said.

Northeastern bond issue

Northeastern Local Schools also will have to face the mandate if voters approve building new schools in the second largest district in Clark County. But it adjusted its bond amount before going back to voters for a second try at new schools.

Voters rejected a $77 million bond issue in November and now Northeastern is asking voters to approve a $79 million bond issue in May. The district would have to build two storm shelters, as it seeks to build two pre-k-through-12th-grade buildings.

The additional $2 million would be for both the shelter and additional construction cost, architect Mike Ruetschle said.

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“The cost was added by the state of Ohio and they have a calculator that determines the budget for the storm shelter,” he said. “It came out to about $900,000.”

Though the design plans haven’t been made, Ruetschle believes Northeastern would follow Greenon and Clark-Shawnee and not build a dedicated storm shelter, rather make it a dual-purpose room.

“It would likely be an existing space that is hardened,” he said. “Music rooms are really good because they are larger spaces anyway.”

Protecting students is important, Ruetschle said.

“It’s a mandated requirement but it’s also a safety enhancement,” he said. “To provide a space in the building to in an event of a tornado, I think it’s a benefit.”

It’s good to know the kids are safe at school, said Brown, who opposed the Clark-Shawnee levy. But the cost of the enhancement is a lot, he said.

If the additional cost was known at the time the voters approved the bond, he believes it would have swayed some voters to vote no.

“If it saves one kid’s life, it is well worth the money,” he said. “But we’ve gotten by 100 years without a tornado hitting Rockway.”