CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education is preparing to head to the ballot in November to ask voters for a second time to pay for a major construction project.
The board on Wednesday unanimously approved an $89.7 million Master Facilities Plan. While property owners would be asked to pay $56.5 million for the construction, the state is expected to contribute $33.2 million, according to school officials.
A plan voters rejected in 2015 would have cost $93.5 million, with the state covering $22.5 million.
Under the plan just approved — phase one in an anticipated two-phase process — Newberry Elementary and Bolich Middle schools would be demolished and a new building for sixth through 12th grade plus the Career Tech program would be built.
The proposal was developed by the district’s Master Facilities Committee and subsequently approved by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said that following the board’s approval, the state facilities commission will meet July 11 to determine the final amount of the state’s share. Nichols said there is a slim possibility the state would not fund the construction.
"I feel strongly that they will," Nichols told the board. He told the Falls News-Press he expects the board of education to ask voters in November for a bond issue to pay for the project.
The school board is expected to discuss the ballot issue needed for the local share of the project at its June 4 meeting.
"I’m very excited we’ve gotten to this point," said Board member Anthony Gomez.
In March, Nichols said the school board should consider a 10-mill levy that would raise both operational funds and money to support the district’s first part of the Master Facilities Plan. He said in May that the board could decide to go with a separate bond issue and levy.
Nichols said the school board would need to pass resolutions to place a levy or bond issue on the November ballot by Aug. 7, the filing deadline at the Summit County Board of Elections.
The second part of the Master Facilities Plan, which will be discussed sometime in the future, would involve the district’s elementary school buildings, Nichols said. The board agreed to have its Master Facilities Committee meet again to start discussions on the next segment.
School officials have been pursuing a district-wide renovation since 2014, when a "Building Our Future Together" committee started meeting to address problems with facilities.
At the time, Nichols reported that Ohio School Facilities Commission assessments for each building in the district found that the schools did not meet minimum state standards.
In a letter to the community, he said "We face a combination of heating, cooling, ventilation, electrical, accessibility, and technology issues in every building in the district. Additionally, our learning spaces lack the flexibility they need for effective collaborative learning environments and hamper our goal of excellent 21st century education."
In 2015, Cuyahoga Falls district voters rejected a 5.98-mill, 36-year bond issue and tax levy that would have raised $71 million for $93.5 million worth of construction, with $22.5 million being paid for by the state facilities commission.
The state’s 27 percent share of four years ago has increased to an expected share of 37 percent today, Nichols said.
Regarding the proposed first phase of construction, Nichols said he felt there would be several advantages to having the district’s sixth through 12th graders in one facility.
"You would have one building instead of three, which is more efficient," Nichols said. He added the district "was not in the design phase," and designs would not come out until after the passage of a levy or bond issue. However, he said the design would likely incorporate common spaces such as the cafeteria separating the sixth- and eighth-graders from the high school-age students.
Another advantage would be greater collaboration with middle and high school staff, Nichols said.
"So many of our middle school students take advance high school courses," Nichols said.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC