2007-11-17 / News

Liberty Union sets plans for new middle school

By Charles Prince

BALTIMORE - Liberty Union-Thurston School District moved one step closer Monday night to putting a bond issue on the March 4, 2008 ballot.

Board members unanimously approved a resolution of necessity for the bond issue to pay the local share for a new middle school - grades 5 to 8 - and to renovate the high school.

If voters approve, it will complete a revised master plan to upgrade and expand the district's facilities. Liberty Union has been waiting for years for its turn to participate in the Ohio School Facilities Commission's Classroom Facilities Assistance Program. Back in 2002, the district locked in the state's share at 60 percent of project costs by reaching a Expedited Local Partnership Program agreement with the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). The district then raised some $6 million from local taxpayers to renovate and expand the elementary school. That expenditure applies toward the district's 40 percent share of costs.

That early approval benefitedlocal taxpayers twice. First, the district avoided the recent run up in material costs for the elementary school. Second, it "locked in" the state's share at 60 percent. If the district had waited until its number came up, the state's share would be much closer to 50 percent due to changes in the district's property valuation.

"The state is finally ready to pay their share," Superintendent Paul Mathews said. But it's more complicated than that. OSFC funds come with some big strings. First, the district is required to address all facility needs, not just some of them. Second, the Commission has very specific standards for school design and renovation/replacement determinations.

OSFC's assessment of the high school's needs came in at $13.2 million which lead to a recommendation that the district build a new school to house grades 5-12. OSFC's first assessment of the high school in 2001 totaled $3.3 million. Based on OSFC standards, the new 5-12 building would total 118,000 square feet. There would be no fixed seat auditorium.

District officials questioned giving up a high school built in 1988. Bonds will be paid off by the end of this year. Plus the new OSFC design at 118,000 square feet would be smaller than the existing schools - current high school is 83,000 square feet, auditorium/gym is 16,000 square feet and current middle school is 65,000 square feet. "We get 164,000 square feet by renovating," Mathews explained.

The board decided to do its own engineering study of the high school. That study came in at $9.9 million which included adding air conditioning and a sprinkler system to the auditorium/gym combination and air conditioning the main gym. OSFC agreed to review the district's study. "We went over our study line by line," Mathews said. "They agreed with every bit of our engineering study. We are the first school district to reduce the scope of renovation work."

"Our engineering study just saved this community over $3 million," he added.

Here's the revised master plan. A new 65,000 square foot middle school for grades 5-8 will built near the elementary school. The current lane off Ohio 158 where school buses park will be the entrance for the new school. The 1988 high school will be renovated as will the older auditorium/ gym. The rest of the existing middle school will be demolished, first to be used for additional parking then for expansion of the high school if area growth projections are realized. The new middle school will cost $12.4 million and the high school/auditorium renovation will be $9.9 million. The work will also incorporate room for a district office,probably at the elementary/ middle school complex, a maintenance shop and an area to park school buses.

Mathews expects the bond issue will be about three mills to raise the $6 million balance needed for the local share. The exact millage will be set by the county auditor and will be specified in the final board resolution to get it on the March ballot. Some $2.2 million of local funds are already available. OSFC is ready to write the district a $17.1 million check once voters approve the bond levy, Mathews said.

The cost to taxpayers will be significantlyless than the estimated three mills since the current 1.59 mills for the high school bonds come off at the end of this year. The district has one calendar year to raise its share once the State Controlling Board approves the district's Master Plan. That should happen soon.

Mathews hopes voters approve the bond issue in March. Inflation from 2002 has been very costly and he wants to minimize it now that the waiting for the state is over.

In other business Monday night, board members honored the two students of the month - senior Sophia Closson and sophomore Matt Thompson, the teacher of the month - Susan Steffen, band director Benjamin Factor and the LUHS March Band for making it to the state finals for the first time, and Krista Mathews for making it to the state finals for cross country. Insurance agent Mark Matthews was recognized for receiving a "Friend of Education" award from the Ohio School Boards Association. He was nominated by the district for suggesting and sponsoring the

monthly Teacher-of-the-Month

(continued on Page 4) award. The selections are made by the teaching staff. Jim Reed was honored for his 42 years of service to the district. The middle school history teacher and basketball, baseball and golf coach retired during the summer.

Reed, who graduated from Liberty Union, asked for a few moments to address the board. He encouraged board members to employ staff who have an investment in the community. Reed also expressed concerns about how intrusive testing is becoming in the classroom and the effect of rising health care costs on teachers. Retirement after 30 years service with great health care benefits helped attract some of the best and brightest to teaching, Reed explained. Reductions in health benefits for retirees is causing some teachers to hang on too long and reducing the attractiveness of teaching as a profession, he added.

The board's next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10 in the high school library. Members will approve the millage for the March bond issue levy.

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