CASEY S. ELLIOTT

CASEY S. ELLIOTT

Staff Writer

Urbana City Schools' board may get a chance to weigh in on a possible building project in May or June next year, Superintendent Charles Thiel said.

School administrators are researching options for a potential building project over the next several months, Thiel said. The school board authorized the planning process to examine building options for the district at its September meeting.

Thiel said an initial steering committee meeting to investigate building project options will take place in the middle of January. That group will also organize community forums for feedback on the potential for a building project, and present its recommendations to the school board. The school board will make the final decision on whether to seek a building levy from voters.

School administrators and community members are investigating options and costs for a potential building project through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC). The OFCC is the new name for the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission. The commission provides funding for school building projects – both new and retrofitted buildings – for districts throughout the state. The state would foot 61 percent of the cost of the building project if voters approved it within the next year, Thiel said previously. But any building levy would first have to be approved by the school board before it could be placed on a ballot.

Ideally, a building levy could appear on the November ballot at the earliest, he said.

Urbana schools officials sought new-building levies in the past. The first was in 2004, and the most recent one in 2006 failed by 140 votes, Thiel said.

The district purchased approximately 60 acres of land on Community Drive next to the Champaign Family YMCA in 2005 for $891,660, Treasurer Mandy Hildebrand said in the past. The property would be the location of any new buildings.

The hope is to have an idea of what the community would support and when in terms of new or refurbished buildings, Thiel said.

“If the community says we don't want new buildings, how do we deal with the current buildings,” he said. “We have to make them accessible, make them safer than they are, and address some of the needs in the buildings we have.”

Thiel said the possibilities range from doing nothing to completely building new structures throughout the district. The district's older buildings need to be made handicap accessible and have newer technology and air conditioning added, among other fixes. If new buildings are approved by voters, old school buildings could later be rented out, closed or demolished, depending on whether there was community interest in purchasing or renting space.

Thiel said previously the elementary and junior high grade reorganizations this year was groundwork for an eventual move to a single new building. Grade levels were rearranged across the district and Local Intermediate was mostly closed to save some operational dollars.

Thiel estimated that could take three years from voter approval to construction, though the time frame would depend on the OFCC.

Casey S. Elliott can be reached at celliott@civitasmedia.com.