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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Otsego board studying options; 3-building plan exceeds 1-site option by $8M


TONTOGANY - If the Otsego Board of Education decided to build two new elementary schools and renovate and expand a third, the project would cost taxpayers in excess of $8 million more than if the board elected to construct a single building to house all kindergartners through sixth graders.

That's what Superintendent Jim Garber heard last week from representatives of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the agency that administers the state's public school construction program.

The commission does not pay for its full share of a new elementary building if it will contain fewer than 350 students. Otsego's three elementaries - Haskins, Weston, and Grand Rapids - all have lower enrollments than that number.

Otsego's application for a waiver from this requirement was turned down, meaning the district would be penalized by having to pay $8.3 million more for multiple new buildings than it would if it adopted the commission's plan, which is to build a single elementary facility.

The estimated total cost of the single-facility plan would be about $27.6 million, of which the state would pay 55 percent. The alternative plan would cost an estimated $35.9 million, and Otsego taxpayers would have to make up the difference.

In terms of a 28-year construction bond levy to pay for the projects, the difference is: 1.5 mills for the commission's plan versus 3.6 mills for the more costly alternative.

"It's quite a significant difference," Mr. Garber noted.

A mill equals $1 per $1,000 of a property's assessed valuation.

The district's master plan calls for replacing the elementary schools in Weston and Haskins with new buildings and renovating and expanding the school in Grand Rapids.

The school board now will have to decide if it wants to go with the OSFC's plan or ask voters for more money to build multiple schools.

"A lot of people think we're getting three new elementary schools," Mr. Garber said.

Commission representatives will be at the school board's July 14 meeting to answer questions, the superintendent said.

He added that the board would hold informational meetings of its own in August and September.

Mr. Garber said the board would have to decide by mid-September whether it wanted to request a levy for construction funds that would appear on the ballot by May.

The superintendent explained that a district has three opportunities to adopt millage for construction, then becomes a "lapsed district" if the levy requests are unsuccessful.

"That's when the state says, 'When you get your money, come back to us and we'll recalculate what the costs are,'•" he said.

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