Deficits possible in school renewal
Architects pointed to budget shortages in several of the construction projects.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Architects are raising the prospect of adjustments, cutbacks or cost overruns in parts of the city's $163.5 million school improvement plan, but school officials say it's too soon to push the panic button.
"There may be some physical plant concessions that you will have to make because you don't have all the money that you need," Architect Steve Birch of Cleveland told the school board last week.
"I don't think any school is going to get shortchanged in this project," said Anthony DeNiro Jr., executive director of school business affairs. "We're far from making a statement that we're over budget. It's too soon to tell. We haven't even put anything out for bid," he said.
Four years ago: The state assessment, upon which the $163.5 million figure was based, was conducted four years ago, DeNiro noted. "In four years, there's a lot of wear and tear that happens, and things deteriorate," he explained.
The ambitious school overhauling is being funded largely by the state and partly by a local bond issue the district's voters passed last November. The project consists of construction of a new East Side high school adjacent to East Middle School, expansion of Chaney High School, construction of three elementary schools and extensive renovations to many school buildings.
Groundbreaking for the Chaney expansion, East Side high school and the new elementary schools is scheduled for the fall of 2002.
"The condition of Rayen School, in my opinion, is very bad," Birch said. "The locker rooms and certain areas of the roofing are bad. The doors are bad," he added.
Birch said one option is to reduce the size of the project that would convert that building from a high school to a middle school and to close parts of that building. However, he said, "I'd much prefer to see more money come for that school."
Proposed expenditures to renovate Choffin Career and Technical Center may be reassessed by state officials because of a $1 million shortfall in funds needed to renovate that building and its adjacent horticulture building, he told the board.
"At Chaney, we had about a $1.8 million deficit a little over two weeks ago, and we're down now to just slightly under $800,000, and we're working through that," said Architect Ray Jaminet of Youngstown. "Hopefully, we'll get that down to a real manageable number. We won't be able to get rid of it all, but we'll get rid of most of it," he said.
"We assured the people of the community that their children would be going into newly renovated, well-constructed buildings," board member Tracey Winbush reminded her colleagues.
"I will not allow any building that I work on, or any building in this district that I'm aware of, to have the learning environment suffer. There are money problems, but I think we have to figure out ways to get around those problems," Jaminet said.
The state may put more money into the district's school facilities improvements, but if that happens, it would fund 80 percent of the cost, and the school district would have to come up with the other 20 percent, said Capt. Alan Stephan, board member.
"We really must allow the system to work before we push the eject button," Stephan said. "Let's not do anything presumptuous at this point. We are working the problem, and the problem will be solved," he said.
Despite shortfalls in other parts of the project, Architect Paul Ricciuti of Youngstown said the $10.2 million allotted to renovate Wilson High School, which will be converted to a middle school, is sufficient to do the job there. Wilson will get new wiring, plumbing and windows and new heating, air-conditioning and automatic-sprinkler systems.
"It's not scheduled until 2003 and 2004, because we want the building empty when we remodel it," he explained. "When we're finished with that building in 2005 or 2006, it will be a first-class middle school," he promised.
The new East Side high school is "going to be an amazing building," Ricciuti said. Designed for 1,250 students, it will feature 32 classrooms, not including eight science rooms, 21 special education rooms, two special project rooms, two art rooms, two music rooms, three industrial technology rooms and a 6,000-square-foot media center, he told the board.
The entire team of architects will be working with Dynamic Engineering, a minority-owned Columbus firm, which will be the lead technology firm for the project, Ricciuti said. "They will be doing the technology engineering on all 16 buildings so that we have consistency of design," he said. "Technology in this particular master plan involves over $6 million worth of hardware in all the 16 buildings," he told the board.