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Pencilstorm Interviews: Superintendent Paul Imhoff

Pencilstorm reached out to Upper Arlington Superintendent Paul Imhoff with five questions about Issue 43, the school levy on the November 7 ballot. It is a 3.75-mill operating levy combined with a $230 million bond issue (which would be collected at a rate of approximately 5.17 mills above current collections). Together, the issue would be collected at a rate of 8.92 mills above current collections. This would fund rebuilding the high school and rebuilding or renovating all five elementary schools to address the aging building systems (HVAC, plumbing, mechanical, electrical) and add the needed space to accommodate projected enrollment growth. It also includes addressing drainage issues and installing a turf field and baseball/softball diamonds on the district-owned land behind Tremont Elementary School to serve as needed athletic space.

His unedited answers are published below.

Paul Imhoff.jpg

The school board is asking for a lot of money, roughly $26 per month for each $100,000 of home valuation. Does Upper Arlington really need a new high school and rebuilding or renovating five elementary schools?
Assessments have shown that our existing buildings will need $188 million of repairs over the next 15 years, with the most immediate needs at the high school, followed by the elementary schools.  

During the facilities master planning process, the community volunteers on our building teams suggested other options for the buildings in addition to simply repairing them.  After receiving cost estimates for those other options, we asked our entire community to weigh in on the preferred options through public meetings, online surveys and telephone surveys.  In all, we had more than 8,000 touch points throughout the process.  It’s this feedback that led to the current plan to rebuild the high school and rebuild or renovate all five elementaries.  The Board of Education believes these decisions rest with the community. And the BOE believes the community has spoken over the past several years and the master plan is a reflection of the community voice.

This levy covers a lot… operations (money to run the school) and another $230 million for a new high school, and rebuilding or renovating five elementary schools.  Why is this getting bundled?  Can we parse this out and pay for some today and some 10 years from now to reduce costs?
The Board of Education felt it was important to keep the issues combined because they are so closely related and separating them would, in essence, present the community with a false choice.  If the bond issue and operating levy were separated and only one passed there would not be funds available to continue operating the district at its current levels.  For instance, if an operating levy passed and a bond issue failed the district would need to divert significant dollars from all areas of the district’s operating budget to make the needed repairs to the current buildings.

The recommendation to address both the high school and the elementary schools at the same time came from the local business experts on the Financial Advisory Board.  They came at the issue from a business perspective and believed that it was most practical to do the high school and elementary schools at the same time for three reasons.  In their final report, the FAB cited inflation in construction costs, a possible increase in interest rates and the anticipated need to fund trailers as a temporary remedy for enrollment growth at the elementary schools.

Based on those three points, the FAB recommended completing the high school and elementary schools in the first phase to lower the costs over time and realize the lowest tax rates over time.  They advised that doing the projects together was a wise business choice.

How did you estimate pricing for rebuilding the high school, renovating Barrington and Tremont elementary schools, rebuilding Wickliffe and Windermere elementary school and some of Greensview Elementary? Are the plans finalized?
We worked with experts in the construction field to gather total-cost estimates for all of our projects.  These estimates were vetted by two panels of community volunteers with expertise in the areas of construction, real estate and business.  

It’s important to note that these are all-in costs and assume going to the market for pricing in early 2019.  The Board of Education was adamant about transparency in our estimates and wanted to ensure all hard costs and soft costs associated with the projects were included.

While we have been able to estimate the costs of the projects, none of the buildings has actually been designed because we believe that should be done in partnership with our community.  If Issue 43 is supported by voters, we will begin a separate design phase that is open to any student, community member or staff member who would like to take part.

The Natatorium for the new High School is estimated at $17 million, which is about 12% of the overall high school project estimate of $144 million.  Why are we paying so much for a swimming pool? The newly built Tremont Pool cost only $4.5 million.
All pools are expensive, but there are major differences between an outdoor pool and an indoor pool. The comparison is apples to oranges in nature.  For instance, an indoor pool includes spectator seating, storage space, mechanical space and locker rooms in addition to the building that will enclose the space.  The $17 million is an all-in number and has been escalated to reflect 2019 dollars.  It is in line with similar natatorium projects.

Why can’t we look at other resources for funding to reduce costs?  Donations, corporate sponsorships, alumni gifts, student fees, sales or income taxes?  Can we save costs by reducing current operating expenses?
The community volunteers on the Financial Advisory Board considered several ways to help reduce costs for taxpayers.  Based on their feedback, the master plan calls for the largest private fundraising effort in the history of the district, raising at least $5 million in private donations.

The district also continues to seek operational savings through the Efficiency Project, which we launched in 2013. It was a commitment to the community to enact $4.5 million in efficiency measures by the summer of 2017.  The district was able to exceed this goal by the fall of 2016, and residents can view a list of each efficiency measure and the related savings at www.uaschools.org/efficiency.

Pencilstorm would like to thank Paul for taking the time to answer our questions. For more information about the levy visit: www.uaschools.org/facilities and www.uaschools.org/issue43.

Local UA Politics coverage provided by Wal Ozello. You can email him at Pencilstormstory@gmail.com or try to catch him at Colin's Coffee.