Thursday, May 17, 2001

Lebanon, Milford plan new schools

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lebanon and Milford schools scored a combined total of more than $90 million to build and renovate schools with the passage of bond issues last week.

        As the elation wears off, officials are buckling down to plan designs, choose architects, shop for land and plan groundbreaking dates.

        But kids won't be walking into new schools in Milford until at least 2003, said Superintendent John Frye. And in Lebanon, new schools might not open until fall of 2004, Superintendent Bill Sears said.

        Much has to be done before any dirt turns.

        Both districts are considering architects. Milford will choose its architect Thursday while Lebanon is in its selection process. Officials hope to choose one by the end of the month, Mr. Sears said.

        Lebanon also will soon begin organizing community forums to solicit comments.

        “Our theme hasn't changed,” Mr. Sears said. “We want to involve people in the design of these buildings.”

        Both Milford and Lebanon have adopted neighborhood schools concepts, meaning schools will be built within attendance areas to strategically serve current and projected populations. Some other school districts, such as Mason, are mostly centrally located.

        The Milford bond issue will pay for four elementary schools to eliminate crowding in the district.

        Lebanon's bond issue will provide funding to build an elementary school for kindergarten to fourth grade, add to the three existing elementaries, renovate Berry Middle School, build a high school, convert Donovan Intermediate to kindergarten to fourth grade, and renovate the high school to become a 7-8 building. The new schools would accommodate the district's growth of about 100 students a year.

        The districts will next have to choose construction managers. But taxpayer money from Lebanon's $50 million bond and Milford's $43.6 million bond won't be collected for construction until early next year.

        Lebanon's bond issue will cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $177 annually in new property taxes. Milford's increase is estimated to cost an additional $125 for a similar home.

        To finance aspects of the project before next year, Lebanon schools will issue bond anticipation notes in June, said Treasurer Mary Beth Kemmer. The notes allow quick financing before the bonds are sold.

        Milford school officials had a meeting scheduled with bond counsel, who will assist the district with the legalities, and investment bankers who will help the district re-establish a credit rating. Milford has an expired credit rating, having paid off previous debt, said Treasurer David Robinson. Lebanon, too, will reapply for a new credit rating in hopes of achieving a better rating, Ms. Kemmer said.

        District officials say they know the biggest jobs are ahead.

        “It's all very complicated,” Ms. Kemmer said. “We'll be burning the candle at both ends for a couple of years.”


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