A water leak in one of the hallways at Northeastern High School is one of the reasons the school district wants to build new schools. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
Photo: Jeff Guerini
Photo: Jeff Guerini

Northeastern schools reexamines building project after budget concerns

Northeastern Local Schools is going back to the drawing board to develop plans for a new school building after budgeting issues derailed the district’s original plan.

Northeastern officials were scheduled to meet with the community about the project last week, but postponed that meeting after realizing the new Northeastern PreK-12 portion of the project had come in over budget.

“Although these are initial estimates that are subject to extensive review and revision in the weeks to come, the current estimate is over the budget set for the project,” a statement released by district on social media said.

The announcement comes as Northeastern is in the process of finalizing floor plans for two new schools — with a price tag of $120 million.

One campus will be adjacent to the current South Vienna school and will be ‘Northeastern PreK-12.’ The second campus will be on the property near Kenton Ridge High School and will be ‘Kenton Ridge PreK-12.’

The district was supposed to discuss plans for the Kenton Ridge PreK-12 school at Thursday’s meeting. However, due to budget issues with the Northeastern school, plans on the schools have been suspended.

Suspended plans

Northeastern Local Schools Superintendent John Kronour said all plans for Kenton Ridge PreK-12 have been, “suspended until the district can resolve the budget problems with Northeastern PreK-12.”

“We are going to figure out Northeastern first, as we assume Kenton Ridge will have the same budgeting problems as they are designed very similar,” Kronour said.

During a community meeting in April, Mike Ruetschle, lead architect on the two buildings, said construction on the Northeastern PreK-12 would begin late this year, with a completion date near the end of 2021/2022.

Ruetschle said construction Kenton Ridge would begin in early 2020, with a move in date at the start of the 2022/2023 school year.

Now it seems both construction start dates, and move in dates, are up in the air.

“It’s going to depend on how quickly we can get this resolved,” Kronour said in response to whether or not construction would be delayed.

In the statement released by the district, Northeastern said designs for the schools, “are not extravagant but we believe that there are areas we can realize savings.”

Original floor plans of the Northeastern schools unveiled to the public showed the school split into three multi-story buildings. The first building will be located to the left of the center building and will host PreK-6 graders, as well as other classrooms. Grades PreK-3 will be on the first floor and the rest will be on the second floor.

The second building will be located in the middle of the complex and will house two gyms, student dinning, a kitchen, locker room, music rooms and other elective’s.

The third building, located to the right of the center building, will house 7th and 8th graders on the first floor with high school students on the second.

The buildings will be connected by a lobby and media center.

Floor plans for Kenton Ridge PreK-12 have not been released to the public.

Funding

Kronour said the district is currently working with Ruetschle, “around the clock,” to resolve the budgeting issues.

Funding for the schools will come from local and state money. Voters approved a 37-year $79 million bond issue in May 2018 by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. In addition to the bond, the state will contribute around $41 million to the project through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, bringing the total cost of the two schools to $120 million.

The OFCC is responsible for guiding capital projects for state agencies, like state-supported universities, community colleges and Ohio’s comprehensive public K-12 school construction and renovation projects, according to their website.

Rick Savor, media relations manager for the OFCC, said it’s not uncommon for school construction designs to come in over budget.

“It does happen,” Savor said. “It happens enough where this isn’t exactly surprising or shocking.”

Savor said the commission is currently working with Northeastern to bring the cost of the schools design down.

“When these estimates come in over the district’s budget, we work with the district to redesign the building in the most cost effective way that allows for the reduction of prices,” Savor said.

However, this does not mean the district will be forced to cut down on things like classroom sizes or square-footage, Savor said.

“We look at certain methods of designs and material that can be changed that cause no reduction in what the district is looking for - so the district isn’t giving things up,” Savor said.

Kronour said asking voters for more money for the school is, “not on the table right now.”

“We asked for an amount from the voters and we will do what we said we would,” Kronour said.

The statement released by the district also falls in line with Kronour.

“Our commitment to you is that we will make the most of the generous investment you’ve made in our community with an emphasis on safe learning environments that support the educational needs of NELSD students for years to come,” the statement says. “Addressing these budget issues is the top priority for your Board of Education and Administration.”

Patience

Kronour said the district expects to have more information to share with the public by mid-August as the district does not want to rush.

“It’s too premature to put a timeline out there,” Kronour said.

The statement released by the district said it would, “keep the community updated about this process and anticipate sharing more information in mid-August about the facilities project.”

Kronour said previously that the community has been important in deciding all aspects of the schools.

“We want to make sure we are going to deliver what the community wants,” Kronour said previously. “They paid for them. We want to make sure that these schools last for years, because they will stand long after teachers that are teaching here now are gone, long after current students are gone.”

For now, Kronour said he hopes the public can understand the position the district is in.

“We would just like to ask for some patience right now. Obviously we don’t want to be off schedule and we don’t want to be in this position, but that’s a risk you have with any building project,” Kronour said.

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