Thursday, August 02, 2001

Latest price tag to fix city schools: $831.5M

State's repair estimate nearly 19% above district's

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A state agency that sent architects and engineers to each of Cincinnati's 75 schools this year says $831.5 million is needed to repair the district's crumbling buildings.

        That's a far cry from the more than the $700 million Cincinnati Public Schools officials estimated two years ago.

        While school officials acknowledge their own estimates have risen, they say the final price will require major negotiations between the district and the state.

        Ohio has agreed to finance 19 percent of the school district's facility improvement plan. That's why the Ohio School Facilities Commission dispatched architects and engineers to Cincinnati schools and received reports of 50-plus pages.

        But “it's a red-flag price tag,” said Harriet Russell, board vice president and chair of the board's facilities committee.

        “They don't take into consideration the work we've had under way to keep costs down for the taxpayers.

        “This is why there will have to be negotiations between the state and the schools on a site-by-site basis.

        “It's not a question of looking at the total price tag.”

        The final costs of improving Cincinnati schools will be released in December.

        The district's declining enrollment will help determine which schools will be renovated and consolidated and how many new schools will be constructed.

        The master facility plan is expected to accompany a price tag of up to $900 million.

        “We knew about these numbers (from the commission). These are not a surprise to us,” CPS spokeswoman Jan Leslie said.

        The district, she said, will work to verify the commission's figures but will not change the way it estimates improvement costs. Its own architects and engineers will keep working on their own figures and the district will continue working with individual schools' planning teams.

        Board member Sally Warner said it's prudent for the district to work with the state because Ohio has agreed to finance 19 percent of the district's final renovation and construction costs.

        “If we don't work with them, we don't get that 19 percent,” she said.

        The commission was established in May 1997 to provide funding, oversight, management and technical assistance to Ohio schools.

        Spokesman Rick Savors said the $831.5 million renovation cost could change based on the district's December plan and which schools the district decides to close.

        The commission has said Windsor Elementary and Washburn are in the worst shape.

        “The dollar figures that you're seeing ... are one tool involved in a rather lengthy process,” he said.

        “Is this a good number for what it's going to cost? No, because there are so many things we don't know. All of them revolve around that final master plan.”


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