More than 15 years after its creation, the Ohio School Facilities Commission has invested nearly $10 billion in state and local funds to replace and repair school buildings once rated the worst in the nation.
“As it stands, we’re about half done,” said Richard Hickman, executive director of the commission.
“If we are able to fund about 25 districts each year and those districts are able to secure their local share to move forward with construction, we think it will take until 2025.”
Wrought from the 1997 court ruling finding Ohio’s system of funding public schools unconstitutional, the massive construction program was created to aid all 614 school districts and 49 joint vocational districts. Starting with the poorest districts, the state has been working through a list of projects, with work beginning after local voters approve levies to provide matching funds.
Overall, nearly 1,000 schools have been built or renovated since the commission was created in 1997. Funds have been offered to about 450 districts, Hickman said, with about 100 unable so far to secure local matching funds.
When the commission was approved by state lawmakers, the work ahead may have seemed insurmountable. A 1995 General Accounting Office survey of 10,000 school buildings nationwide singled out Ohio’s as being in the worst condition.
State officials predicted all work on Ohio’s schools would be completed by 2012.
It was an ambitious timeline and, like most construction projects, prone to delay, most recently because of the economic recession.
The poorest districts had to come up with relatively small amounts of matching funds, but as wealthier districts began to qualify and the local contribution grew, the economy stalled and voters became less willing to approve tax increases for school construction.
But Hickman said the program appears to be picking up steam again.
Last month, the commission approved $1.1 billion in school construction projects for the current fiscal year, nearly double the value of projects approved last year. The 27 districts selected for funding plan to construct 43 new buildings and renovate nine existing ones, with the state contribution averaging 44 percent.
“We’ve got six who already have their funding (approved) and four more lined up to go to the ballot in August and November,” Hickman said. “Last year at this time, only four districts had their funding.”
Among the districts ready to start building projects are South-Western and Lancaster schools, where voters earlier this year approved money for new buildings.
In South-Western, ground will be broken next year for 13 new elementary schools, a new high school and renovations to two elementary schools. The state will provide $120 million of the $268 million for the project, with local taxpayers picking up the rest.
Five new elementary schools will be built in Lancaster, with the state covering about one-third of the $88 million project.
Among the new projects also is the commission’s first STEM school, the Dayton Regional STEM school, where an old store will be renovated into classrooms.