More than 1,000 buildings have been renovated, significantly repaired and built brand new under the programs and assistance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, a milestone announced during the commission’s Thursday meeting.
Rick Savors, OSFC’s media relations chief, recalled the moment in November 2000 when he traveled to Ross County to attend the opening of a building for the Huntington Local School District, the first opening of a school facility under the commission.
The projects have been constructed or renovated through the commission’s funding programs or buildings with commitments through the expedited partnership programs, according to Savors, who said the latest tally as of March 1 was 1,031 buildings.
Several members of the commission noted the meaning of such an achievement considering the projects affected many students in the process,” Savors said.
“The buildings housed over 570,000 students throughout Ohio — in educational-ready facilities — facilities that are secure and that have the latest in technology.
“Beginning tomorrow — we’ll start on our next 1,000,” said Executive Director Richard Hickman, who joined other commission members in thanking the staff for their work.
The OSFC passed a resolution Thursday to mark the occasion. Commission chair Tim Keen, also director of the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), noted his history with school facility construction started during his time working as a staffer in the Legislature.
“I remember working in the Office of Budget and Management on the plan that Gov. Taft put together to have a long-term comprehensive funding plan for the construction of school facilities and significant progress has been made since that time and it’s kind of amazing,” said Keen.
In other actions, the commission adopted updates to the state’s design manual which included upgrades to facilities’ telephone system to help deliver more information to emergency personnel in the event of a 911 call.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced 2013 National Green Ribbon Schools Monday, and among them is Kenston High School in Chagrin Falls.
In its second year, the federal program seeks to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education.
Kenston generates 70 percent of its energy with an onsite wind turbine and another 5 percent with passive solar water heating. It has saved 500,000 gallons of water by eliminating irrigation and installing low-flow faucets, and has increased recycled waste by 1.6 tons since 2009. The school incorporates environmental data into its curriculum and hosts the student organization Envirothon. Kenston is also a three-time recipient of the Buckeye Best Healthy Schools Gold Award.
“I applaud the innovative measures used each day at Kenston High School,” state Superintendent Dick Ross said in a release. “Kenston is teaching its boys and girls to be conscious of the environment [and] to be good stewards of the community’s resources, and, at the same time, blending these lessons into its curriculum.”
Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin and Washington led the nation with five Green Ribbon awards each this year, followed by Massachusetts, Minnesota and Alabama with four, and Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland and Washington, D.C. with three.
“Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green,” Duncan said in a statement. “They are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, performance and equity; and provide an education geared toward the jobs of the future. In fact, the selected districts are saving millions of dollars as a result of their greening efforts.”
A total of 32 state education agencies, which must nominate Green Ribbon candidates, participated in 2013, up from 28 in 2012, the first year of the program.
Ohio had two Green Ribbon schools last year, Loveland High School and North Adams Elementary School.
Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also congratulated Green Ribbon winners.
“U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) Green Ribbon Schools are not only cutting costs thanks to energy-saving practices and use of more efficient technology, but they’re also reducing instances of pollution-related illnesses like asthma, a leading cause of student absence,” Perciasepe said. “The students who attend these schools are better prepared than ever to become the next generation of environmental stewards and bring about a healthier, more sustainable future.”
The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) Thursday heard an update on an internal study to improve the commission’s energy efficiency program, also known as the HB264 program.Ramzi Najjar, the energy services manager at the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, said the mission of the study was to improve the review and recommendation process for projects that are brought to the OSFC by school districts and to see if any additional actions need to be taken by OSFC to strength the program. Under the program, school districts can make energy efficiency improvements to buildings, and then use the savings to pay for those improvements, as long as sufficient savings come within a 15-year period. He said recommendations the study will likely make when completed include requiring performance-based contracts and energy guarantees from energy savings companies that propose improvements to districts.“We think this would really hold everybody accountable,” Najjar said. “Specifically, the energy service companies that are proposing [the savings].”The recommendations also include giving the commission discretion to consider the impact of a project on a district’s other OSFC programs. Najjar that comes from concerns the commission has had over the past few years, and noted situations where a district that has completed a construction program is initiating a HB264 program within a few years, and also noted questions about doing an HB264 project on a building that will likely be demolished within a few years under a construction program. Finally, he said a recommendation will include approvals for a district in fiscal or academic emergency.He noted other procedure changes they are still exploring, such as requiring the involvement of OSFC energy staff early in a project, saying the process can be improved when communication begins early. Another possible change would be to limit the inclusion of deferred maintenance items to make sure it doesn’t deviate from the intent of finding energy saving measures, and not having school districts pass resolutions to approve an HB264 project until the OSFC review of that project is completed.The commission did not take any action on those proposals during Thursday’s meeting. In other action, the commission approved amendments and FY13 segmented projects in a number of school districts, including Columbus City Schools, Athens City Schools, Elyria City Schools, Pickerington Local Schools, and Ross Local Schools in Butler County. The OSFC also approved a revised policy for the commission’s segmented project program. David Chovan, chief operating officer for the commission, explained that the changes reduces the minimum segment size from 4 percent to 2 percent of a district’s tax valuation, prorates maintenance obligations to require only facilities under a segment project, and requires a new project agreement for subsequent segments rather than an amendment to a previous agreement. Many of the changes are in response to changes approved by the 129th General Assembly.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Thursday discussed a proposal from commission member and Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary Mohr that would have OFCC join with the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) in looking at developing a master facilities plan for the state — particularly given the reduction and the expected continuing reduction in the state government workforce. Mohr commented that he believes that will result in the state’s having excess space in facilities that once housed management-level employees.
He also noted, saying it was from personal knowledge, that he believes efforts toward decentralizing management will also contribute to this phenomenon.
He said this plan would produce data about what the state will need in five years and what the state currently has in the way of facilities.
Mohr also suggested that the plan consider “legislative strategies” “to allow DAS greater authority to enter into agreements with the private sector” regarding those properties. Expounding on that approach, he said the state needs authority “to engage in public/private or private ventures to use the facilities.”
DAS Director Bob Blair, also an OFCC member, mentioned his office will purse the “leaseback” mechanism, adding that it is a tool his department needs to deal with state facilities because it ties the revenue to the facility. He said he has a specific building in mind that could be used as a pilot for the approach.
Blair added that Mohr’s assessment of the reduction in state workers is correct with the state workforce down 4,000 people.
Commission Executive Director Richard Hickman commented that agencies are reluctant to look at “shared facilities,” but added that the approach “keeps facility costs down but lets the agencies provide the same level of service.”
Mohr stressed that it is important to give DAS the authority to enter into agreements with the private sector with Blair responding that they are looking at that but running into legal questions regarding bonding issues.
Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Tim Keen, who was re-elected OFCC chair Thursday, said they will continue to look at the issue.
In other action, the commission heard a report from Craig Weise on the study required by 129-HB487 to look at OFCC’s role regarding capital projects of the Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Weise said an outside consultant did the study, recommending, among other items, that OFCC should provide project administration for ODNR projects, as the commission does for other state agencies with certain exceptions including roadway projects, which will stay with the Ohio Department of Transportation and dam repair, which will stay with ODNR. Other possible exceptions include projects funded with waterway safety funds and wildlife funds, although Hickman commented later that he foresees responsibility for those moving to OFCC once the staff gains experience in the areas.
Blair said he has talked with ODNR Director Jim Zehringer who said he was pleased with the discussions.
The commission also authorized the agency to pursue litigation against Poggemeyer Design Group and Mosser Construction regarding issues around the Toledo Correctional Institution that deal with “substantial defective work to the roof and precast wall panels … with such defects including defective design documents and work put in place by the contractors not in conformance with the design documents ….”
There are four finalists left as Kent State University nears its decision on a design plan for the new College of Architecture and Environmental Design building. The four remaining firms will present their plans during a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.
KSU President Lester Lefton said that he hopes students, staff, alumni and other members of the community will attend the presentations and get a better idea of the possible buildings that could soon be built on campus.
“This is an exciting time for Kent State as we transform our campus with new buildings and renovations and serve as a partner in the redevelopment of downtown Kent,” Lefton said.
The new architecture building is part of the university’s campus transformation, called “Foundations of Excellence: Building the Future,” which involves the construction of new buildings, facility upgrades and establishment of dynamic, new spaces, according to the university.
The estimated cost of the building is $40 million. KSU’s architecture program is currently housed in three separate spaces. The idea is that the new building will unite the entities under one roof, which will be located between Lincoln Street and Haymaker Parkway.
The four finalists who will present on Jan. 17 are:
– Bialosky and Partners Architects, with offices in New York and Cleveland, in association with Architecture Research Office of New York
– Richard L. Bowen and Associates Inc. of Cleveland in association with Weiss/Manfredi of New York
– The Collaborative Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, in association with the Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle
– Westlake Reed Leskosky, with offices in Cleveland and four other cities
“It will be tremendously exciting to see how the four architecture firms conceptualize our college’s new home,” said Doug Steidl, dean of the program.
The firms had opportunities to get an idea of what the campus wanted through web surveys, interviews and informal conversation sessions.
The event, which is free, will be at the University Auditorium in Cartwright Hall, located at 650 Hilltop Drive in Kent. Those who are interested in seeing the proposed building designs but cannot attend can watch it live online or see the presentations later at their convenience.
To watch the live stream, go to https://ksutube.kent.edu/watchlive.php?playthis=5049.
Following the Jan. 17 presentations, the sustainability data provided by the finalists will be analyzed and their cost estimates will be reviewed by independent sources while the presentation materials are further evaluated by the selection committee to determine the winning design scheme.
The winner of the competition is expected to be announced in February.
For more information about Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, visit www.kent.edu/caed.
By Josh Sweigart, Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News
Laws requiring state agencies to award a percentage of their contracts to minority-owned and disadvantaged companies have created a cottage industry of middlemen who essentially rent their status to larger firms for a cut of the profit on public contracts.
The practice isn’t illegal. It isn’t even uncommon. And sometimes it leads to markups paid by taxpayers, an investigation by the Dayton Daily News found.
An example: When Ohio State University needed to repair some sewage and stormwater pumps at some of its labs last year, it had the work done by Toledo-based Peterson Thermal Equipment Company.
But instead of hiring Peterson, university officials had Approved Components and Systems, Inc. handle the transaction and tack on a 3 percent markup because ACSI is a state-approved disadvantaged company.
Peterson did all the work while the university made progress on meeting its requirement to give a percentage of such jobs to disadvantaged firms.
Taxpayers paid ACSI 3 percent of the $27,770 contract.
ACSI consists of one man, Steven Garcia, who works out of his Columbus home. According to state records, ACSI has done $676,000 worth of direct sales to OSU since 2009, and $47,606 combined to the Public Utilities Commission, Public Works Commission and state Adjutant General since the beginning of 2010.
The majority of Garcia’s work, though, is as a materials supplier for larger contracts let by the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission, he told the Daily News. Such contracts must obtain 5 percent of their goods from a disadvantaged vendor. A company tells him what to buy and who to buy from, and he does so and sells it to the company so it can meet that requirement.
“I’m buying from company A and selling to the state,” Garcia said. “If you want to yell and scream and say there’s some insanity about the program, it would have to be with the state legislature.”
When presented with the newspaper’s findings, State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, said he doesn’t believe this practice is in line with the intent of the law, which has been in place for decades.
“I think the spirit of the law probably involved trying to give an opportunity to genuine retailers and manufacturers that are owned by minorities to participate in state contracts,” he said. “I’d be surprised if the intent was to create a loophole that might put a few minorities to work exploiting the loophole.”
Beagle said he would be open to suggestions on how the program could be fixed without hurting the chances of minority-owned and disadvantaged companies that actually have something to sell and their chances to do business with the state.
“You want to be careful not to hurt legitimate operators with a fix,” he said.
State: OSU is not alone
The laws in question deal with a pair of closely related state programs called MBE and EDGE. MBE stands for Minority Business Enterprise and creates set-asides for companies with owners who are black, American Indian, Hispanic or Asian.
State agencies are required to set aside 15 percent of their purchases each year for bidding among MBE companies.
EDGE stands for Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity and encourages agencies to spend 5 percent of their constructions costs with companies that have owners who are considered disadvantaged because they have a net worth of less than $750,000 and a qualifying social characteristic such as race, gender, disability, where they live or some other objective factor.
EDGE is primarily met by general contractors who bid on projects and attest that they will spend 5 percent of their project cost with EDGE subcontractors.
Statewide, this resulted in steering $111.6 million in state expenditures to MBE companies in fiscal year 2012, and spending nearly $292 million on EDGE firms. This is 6.25 percent of MBE eligible expenses, far short of the goal. It exceeds the EDGE goal at 6.8 percent.
OSU planned to spend $18.6 million in 2011 and $18.7 million in 2012 to meet its EDGE goals, according to a state report.
Department of Administrative Services Assistant Director Rand Howard told the Daily News the MBE and EDGE programs were created to give groups that faced a history of discrimination a fair shot at public contracts.
MBE and EDGE are administered statewide by DAS, which registers companies as MBE- or EDGE-eligible and monitors agencies’ compliance with the percentage rules. But individual agencies handle the contracts themselves.
“OSU is not the only state entity that has practiced that kind of activity,” Howard said of the relationship between ACSI’s Garcia and OSU.
“I don’t want to say, and I can’t say, that it’s an all-bad or criticizable business practice,” he added, noting that it would only clearly be a problem if it cost taxpayers more money.
But, he said, for the agencies DAS purchases for directly, they would not use or tolerate a structure wherein a large firm used a one-person MBE or EDGE company working out of his or her home to help the large firm get set-aside money.
“The state does not countenance that kind of behavior. We would call that a front and we attempt to police it,” he said. “We’re not about the business of putting up with sham operations.
“We want to do the job that makes these programs legitimate and … there ought to be a more … straightforward way to accomplishing that.”
ACSI serves as pass-through
Records reviewed by the Daily News show Garcia would receive a purchase order from OSU and email it to Peterson or another vendor. The vendor would do the work, then send an invoice to Garcia, who would change the letterhead and fax it to OSU. When the university paid the bill, Garcia would pass 97 percent of the payment to the vendor.
A fax from Peterson Thermal to ACSI obtained by the Daily News explains that Peterson provides OSU the quote, then OSU asks for a quote from ACSI, which the company provides as the Peterson quote plus 3 percent.
“PTE and OSU are happy with the situation,” wrote Peterson owner Ray Peterson in the fax to Garcia.
Peterson did not return a call for comment for this story.
Garcia said agencies such as OSU would “tie” his business with another, sometimes talking to the vendor directly then using his business to meet EDGE goals. Sometimes he would call an agency to notify them that he’s an EDGE vendor and ask if they need anything specific bought.
“I’d say, ‘Tie me up with the guy you’re either talking to, or I’ll call them myself,’ ” he said.
OSU officials would not grant an interview for this story. The university responded with a written statement that said it does not “pair, or in any other way match EDGE vendors with contractors. (OSU’s) contracting and procurement practices are consistent with EDGE rules set by the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative code.”
In sub-contracted construction work, university officials said bidders self-assert that they will use EDGE vendors to meet the 5 percent goal.
“The contractor is the only party involved in determining which EDGE vendor they will use as well as what specific goods or services they will procure through EDGE vendors,” the statement says.
‘Common practice,’ says state
The Ohio Inspector General launched an investigation in September 2011 into Garcia’s dealings with OSU after he frankly told investigators how his business operates while being interviewed during an investigation into another company.
“I’m transparent. I don’t have a problem telling anybody. If I can find some way to make a buck and it’s legal, I have no problem with it at all,” Garcia told the Daily News. “(I’m) meeting the needs of a client that has a specific requirement that he buys this stuff from an EDGE vendor.”
The investigation concluded this year with the findings that Garcia was doing nothing wrong, but that the entire MBE/EDGE program should be reviewed.
“It is a common practice to see (a) middleman used by agencies in order to reach their MBE and/or EDGE requirements,” investigators concluded, according to the unreleased report obtained by the Daily News using Ohio’s public records laws.
The inspector general’s report lists nine companies that OSU purchases goods from through ACSI. Based on the company’s 3 percent markup, investigators estimated OSU could have “overpaid” $20,000.
Ohio Deputy Inspector General Carl Enslen told the Daily News his office is tasked with finding violations of policy or law, and found none in this case. He would not comment on whether an investigation of the MBE/EDGE program was launched, as suggested in the report.
“Policy-makers elected to the legislature decided it’s a good policy for state government to obtain goods and services provided by certain people even when the arrangement will mean that taxpayers will have to give more money to make the purchase or buy the service,” he said.
Garcia defends the program, saying the amount of money spent is a “drop in the bucket” on the cost of these projects and that “without it, there would be no small business in construction.”
“Yes, it adds more to these construction projects, but it’s bringing diversity into these programs where there would be none,” he said.
The now-combined offices of the State Architect’s Office and the Ohio School Facilities Commission are moving, the new Ohio Facilities Construction Commission announced recently.
The OFCC is transferring to the fourth floor of the state’s William Green Building at 30 W. Spring St. in Columbus. The move will occur Dec. 7-10, during which time there will be no access to either of the subgroups’ offices and the phones will be down.
A temporary phone number for the commission (614-204-9630) will be active during the move for “essential phone contact,” OFCC said. The commission’s north office in Macedonia will remain open during the transition.
The new main phone number will be (614) 466-6290, and staff phone will be unchanged.
The newly created Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) will be going before the Controlling Board Monday to request funds to help move the entity into the William Green Building in Columbus.
The new commission is a combination of the former State Architect’s Office, which had offices on Surface Road in Columbus, and the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which leased space at 10 W. Broad St. The combined entity will have its offices on the fourth floor of the building located at 37 W. Spring St.
The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) is requesting the transfer of $72,667 from its office space planning fund for the relocation. In its request, the agency notes that the relocation “will support an initiative to fill state-owned buildings where vacancies exist.”
The new commission discussed the move at its last meeting, saying it plans to be in the new offices by December.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) announced the state’s third education facility to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
OSFC funded the middle-high school project in Hamilton County’s North College Hill City School District with a combination of local and state funds. Commission Executive Director Richard Hickman said the district cleared a high bar to become a Platinum school.
“This project was completed within budget, with the full complement of education components incorporated into the building, and it was able to achieve this elite LEED rating,” Hickman said. “North College Hill Middle-High School is a great example of what can happen when a team embraces integrated project delivery and works together towards constructing an energy-efficient, sustainable and healthy environment for students, teachers and staff.”
The North College design stresses significant energy savings with high-efficiency HVAC equipment, strategic building orientation, and natural light. The school also features solar panels producing approximately five of its energy needs, and was constructed with products and materials that are environmentally friendly, regionally obtained and inclusive of recycled content. As a result, the construction team was able to divert 918 tons of waste from the area landfill.
The district is an urban community whose education facilities have been consolidated at a single site, with physical education separating the age groups. North College Hill Elementary, also on the campus, recently achieved LEED Gold certification.
The middle-high school joins London Middle School in London City School District and Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati as Ohio’s only public school buildings to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
With 70 requests on the agenda, the Controlling Board held 10 items for further questioning during Monday’s meeting. That included a request by Bowling Green State University (BGSU) for $6.9 million to continue its academic buildings rehabilitation project. The proposal from BGSU requests money for the use of three companies: two from Ohio and one from New York. Jones Lang LaSalle, from Columbus, would be contracted for executive program manager services. The Lathrop Company, of Maumee, would provide executive construction manager services. The third, Perkins Eastman Architects, of New York, would be used for executive architect/engineer services. The executive team will oversee the renovations and adaptive reuse for several of BGSU’s academic buildings, which include University Hall, Moseley Hall, Hanna Hall, and South Hall. According to the proposal, additional renovations are planned for Eppler Hall, Olscamp Hall and the building that currently houses the College of Business Administration. However, there are also plans for a new building to be constructed and become the new facility to house the business administration school.
Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield) noted that he recognized the name Perkins Eastman and he knew it to be a well-known national firm but he asked BGSU Associate Vice President for Capital Planning and Design Steven Krakoff why the school chose them over other Ohio firms. Krakoff said Perkins Eastman will drive the efforts of space planning and programming in the academic space and continue the work of concept design in the buildings. He added that other Ohio firms will have the ability to carry out those plans when it comes to the implementation phase.
Krakoff said that Ohio firms will receive the “bulk of the fees” during the process as a whole. Wanting an explanation for why BGSU is going out of Ohio for the executive architect/engineer services role, Rep. John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus) asked if Perkins Eastman had skills that other architects are not able to do or if the firm was more cost effective. The BGSU associate vice president explained that it was “a little bit of both.” Krakoff noted that Perkins Eastman brought the experience of working on more than 150 campuses. He also said that the work that BGSU is expecting out of the firm is not common among other firms.
Carney said that he appreciated Krakoff’s response and understood the reasoning, however, he added that if other Ohio firms keep losing out to out-of-state firms like Perkins Eastman then they will never get to build the track record that BGSU was looking for. “I know that between engineering firms and architecture firms it seems like a lot of our state campuses are bringing in folks from outside of Ohio and they’re essentially saying — ‘look I was educated at Bowling Green, I got my engineering degree I got my architecture degree at Ohio State University and yet these very same institutions will not hire us to do the work,'” said Carney, who noted that these types of decisions may result in Ohio-based engineers and architects leaving the state to look for work elsewhere.
Carney also had questions for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODAg) request for $1 million for capital improvements at its Reynoldsburg campus. The representative asked why the funds for improvements were not included in the capital budget. Janelle Mead, ODAg deputy director, said that preparation of the capital budget occurred under a previous department director and when current ODAg director David Daniels took office he asked each division to examine their individual needs. Mead explained that the request listed items that are needed now rather than waiting for the next capital budget. Carney suggested that some of the items in the request appeared to be important improvements that should have been requested in past budgets. Mead responded by saying she agreed with Carney but that there were other priorities that needed to be addressed first.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) has begun the process of merging staff with the Ohio Architect’s Office under a new Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) that was created to oversee state building projects under HB487 (Amstutz), the Mid-Biennium Review bill.
Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Tim Keen, who serves as chair of the OSFC, laid out the process for the merging of the staffs during Thursday’s OSFC meeting. Under the administration’s plans, both staffs would serve under the OFCC banner with one executive director overseeing the agency. The OFCC would also have an oversight commission made up of the OBM Director, the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) director and an appointment made by the governor.
Keen also said the plan is to keep some of the functions of OSFC separate to recognize the importance of the state’s school construction program. The school facilities commission would still exist as it is currently constituted under state law, but under resolutions passed by the commission Thursday, the panel would not approve contracts as it currently does. Instead, that authority would fall to the OFCC executive director, and the OSFC would have a “policy making, policy setting and oversight role.”
Both commissions would meet quarterly, likely on the same day back-to-back. Keen said that an organizational meeting of the new OFCC would be held on Sept. 10, the effective date of portions of HB487, and an executive director would be named then by the OFCC. OSFC’s final meeting this year will be held on Oct. 25. The 2013 calendar includes meetings set for Jan. 24, April 25, July 11 and Oct. 24.
“Essentially we will have that one contracting process, one set of documents, one set of procedures that will cover both school facilities and the other facilities generally,” Keen has said. “The School Facilities Commission continues to exist, and will continue to meet to provide broad, programmatic oversight, to provide programmatic direction, to provide policy direction, on the school program. The Facilities Construction Commission will provide that on all the non-school programs.”
He said the merger will occur “pretty promptly” with pre-planning already underway. Staffs of the OSFC and the state architect’s office are expected to move into a new space in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation building in November.
The School Facilities Commission also discussed possible changes to its energy conservation program, more commonly known as the HB264 Program after the implementing legislation passed in the mid-1980s.
The discussion was prompted during a presentation on two more awards under the program when DAS Director Bob Blair asked about what is being done to promote the program and how school districts find possible savings.
OSFC Executive Director Richard Hickman said that currently, many school districts are approached by an energy consultant who may promote projects that can be performed with savings to pay off the debt of those projects. He said the OSFC has begun reviewing that process and is planning to present the commission with a report by the end of the year. He noted that current law for state agencies requires a contractor to pay the state for savings not realized by the projects, but that is not the case for school projects in the HB264 program.
After the meeting, Hickman said that the review will look at how the energy conservation contracting process works for state agencies and for school facilities, and will look for common ways to improve and streamline the process. He also said the review will look to see if it is better to have school districts require energy consultant to guarantee the savings in the contract like state agencies currently require.
“It will take some analysis. It will take some discussion with organizations that represent school districts — there’s the School Boards Association, there’s the Buckeye Association of School Administrators — that represent various aspects of school administration. We won’t do this in isolation,” Hickman said.
He said there currently is no competitive requirement for contracts awarded through the program, and that is one thing the review will focus on.
“There’s a lot of aspects we need to look at, and if we can conform that and make them very similar without creating other issues, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. Hickman said some changes may require legislation.
In other action, the commission approved a resolution updating the exceptional program guidelines to conform it with SB316 (Lehner), and heard a presentation on OSFC’s update to its vision and mission to reflect the current direction of the commission. It also approved more than $22.5 million in construction trade contracts. The 37 contracts were for work in 20 school districts.
The historically high number of school levies on the Aug. 7 ballot proved no more fruitful than years past with 31% of issues approved by voters.
The August special election featured 36 school tax issues around Ohio, which is a high for August elections over the past five years, according to Support Ohio Schools. Eleven of those issues received majority support.
Of the 26 additional operating levies, six passed at a rate of 23%. Six of seven renewals were successful, and all three school construction issues failed as did a permanent improvement levy, the group reported.
August special elections are plagued by low turnout as voters are often on vacation, so low passage rates have been the norm.
“August election results followed a typical pattern with districts experiencing limited success,” Ohio School Boards Association Director of Legislative Services Damon Asbury said in a release. “The major take-away is that districts must still continue to try due to budget shortfalls.”
The 23% rate for additional operating funds, however, is below the historical average of 35%, Support Ohio Schools said. That figure is double last year’s August passage rate of 10.5% but a drop from the 46% passage rate of those issues in March.
“Wild swings in election results are becoming the norm,” SOS Executive Director Jerry Rampelt said. “Even in this election there are surprising results. Groveport Madison in the Columbus area and Brecksville Broadview Heights just south of Cleveland had over 70% of the electorate support their levies.
“Contrast this to the 18% positive vote in the Jefferson Local Schools near Ashtabula and 14% positive vote in Osnaburg Schools near Canton. Both Brecksville and Groveport have had recent difficulties in passing levies. The one vote loss (222 to 223) in Jackson Center Local Schools in Shelby County was disheartening.”
OSBA sees the increase in overall school levy requests as related to decreases in state funding, declining revenues and a lackluster economy.
“Ohio public schools are facing unprecedented funding challenges,” OSBA Executive Director Rick Lewis said. “In many cases, school districts have no choice but to turn to their communities to help maintain the high-quality instruction and services residents have come to expect.”
Greg Lawson, Buckeye Institute statehouse liaison and policy analyst, said the levy results are a “resounding message” from taxpayers.
“Clearly, taxpayers have yet to be convinced that many school districts are making the kind of reforms necessary to justify digging deeper in their wallets,” he said in an email. “This even after the ‘sky is falling’ mantra that is being pushed across the state.
“The bottom line is that failure to reform collective bargaining last year does not mean that reform is no longer needed. District officials and school boards should be the first ones demanding changes instead of complaining about Columbus politicians.”
The Ohio Municipal League said school levies faired better that local tax requests from communities. Twenty one of the tax issues were for police and/or fire, emergency medical services, road repair or local government operations.
“Our folks continue to struggle with getting voters’ approval to increase income tax rates to even do some special levies,” OML spokesman Kent Scarrett said in an interview. “We’ve known that our residents are just at their limit of taxation and it’s going to be difficult next year when we see greater cuts in the local government fund and the phase out of the estate tax.
“The trend right now obviously isn’t where tax payers are willing to increase these levels,” which makes circumstances more difficult for local governments.