Cleveland City Council members on Monday praised the city’s school board for bringing them designs for a new school that is heated and cooled by geothermal energy, and the property is construction ready.
The question before the Council now is how to pay for the $18.1 million school priced at $140 per square foot.
One suggestion was to pay for it with the hope that Bradley County will build a school in 2015. Even then, the city could expect about $8 million.
In that case, there is concern the county will use some form of creative financing to circumvent the 1967 sales tax sharing agreement.
Also discussed was perhaps restructuring city debt or financing the new elementary school by paying interest only for a number of years similar to the arrangement for Cleveland Middle School. The city is facing a large balloon payment for using that option as a method to avoid a property tax increase — which could be another option.
The city school district is using its share of the 2009 sales tax for maintenance items and debt service on the new science wing.
The school system is also facing a decision on what to do with the structurally-damaged dome over the basketball court.
No decision was made by the Council. The issue will be reviewed as staff collects financing information.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said, “Your challenge as Council members, somewhere along the line, is the decision is going to have to be made to build a school. We need the school. Nobody can question that. It’s frugal to build it as quick as possible.”
The building will be of block and brick material. By comparison, Mayfield Elementary, the last school built by the city, was made of steel and sheetrock at a cost about $157 per square foot for 440 students. The total cost of land, construction and street improvements totaled about $16 million by the time it opened in 2007. Recently completed schools in Hamilton County were about $155 per square foot.
During discussion, Rowland asked about grants for certain aspects of the school, such as the safe rooms, or the possibility of starting construction now without assurance of any money from the county.
Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff said the dirt work at the site is already done and that prohibits them from waiting two years to start construction.
“We’ll have to rebuild the site again,” he said. “Also, our schools are over-capacity at all of the other schools. Waiting two years means it won’t open for four more years. We’re getting about 100 students per year right now and we cannot sustain the growth in the city system. We’re already in trouble. This is a dire need. This is not a want. This is not something we enjoy coming to ask for.”
Brian Templeton, of Upland Design Group, presented general information on the design program for the proposed elementary school on Georgetown Road. Core spaces, parts of the school all students use, are designed for 700 pupils.
“What you see is, as schools grow, core spaces can’t really handle the end result population,” he said.
The total gross area of the school is 116,228 square feet with an area per student of approximately 168 square feet. The average area per student is 150 square feet.
The design includes five classes each for kindergarten through fifth grade, each being 960 square feet. Two classrooms are designed for preschool. There are 11 restrooms and 32 general education classrooms with attached safe rooms.
Each of the safe rooms could be used for closet space when there is not an emergency. The 140 square-foot rooms will hold 25 students and teachers. The only opening will be through the door. Reinforced walls and roof will protect the students from wind gusts of up to 250 mph.
Rowland said, “I like the idea of the safe rooms. I think that’s a big advantage for the school.”
He asked Templeton how much more the building would cost in two years. The architect said it is hard to judge. Construction activity is stronger in this area than others, which could result in inflation.
“The plan is good. The intention is good and then there is money and that’s where the Council comes in,” the mayor said.
So far, Bradley County has delayed repairs to Lake Forest Middle School until about 2015. If the county floats a bond to repair the school, then the city would receive one-third of that amount based on the 1967 sales tax agreement. Based on the price of repairs, the city would receive about $8 million.
“We’re not going to see any county money for two years,” Rowland pointed out. “So, with $8 million, that’s still going to leave us needing $10 million. The other problem is, the longer we wait, the more students we need to take care of. That problem is not going away.”
Other features include three special education classrooms in the conceptual draft are 600 square feet each. Additional items under special education include three safe rooms, a speech and language classroom, a psychologist’s office and storage, for a subtotal of 2,660 square feet.
The cafeteria is 3,600 square feet with a loading dock for the kitchen area. The gymnasium will be 9,000 square feet. Currently, the framework allows 4,000 square feet for a multipurpose room, a stage and storage. The assembly area will seat 300 students.
The design includes parking for staff and visitors and canopies at the drop off areas. Bus dropoff areas are isolated from car dropoffs, and kindergarten has its own area because they operate on a different schedule.
Three individual areas for playground spaces are identified.
“One of the nice features of the site is the outdoor area to the back with creeks,” Templeton said. “We’ve talked about, as a bid alternate, developing a pathway to get to those spaces. There has also been discussion to incorporate a greenway. Teachers pretty much consistently said they’re very interested in taking classes out into secure outdoor spaces and interested in the idea of using those wetlands.”