School District Leaders Campaign For Combined Levy On May Ballot
December 21, 2017
As the Bryden and Hilltop elementary buildings close in on sixty years old, the need to upgrade Beachwood’s elementary facilities has become more pressing.
Superintendent Dr. Bob Hardis said the deteriorating condition of major building systems at the schools prompted the district to evaluate options for facility upgrades beginning nearly five years ago.
After considering renovation of the existing buildings, district leaders opted to move to consolidate all three of Beachwood’s elementary schools at the Fairmount School site instead.
“There were so many advantages to consolidating that we could never achieve renovating in separate buildings,” Hardis said, “so that then became the one recommendation moving forward.”
Administrators project the cost of building the consolidated elementary school will be $39 million.
A combined operating and bond levy will be placed on the May 2018 ballot for Beachwood voters to decide whether or not they want to fund the consolidated elementary school through property taxes.
If the levy passes, the funds will be financed through the bond market to fund construction and paid back through property taxes over a 35 year period.
Beachwood’s Director of Finance and Treasurer Michele Mills said that both issues are critical to the future of the community, which is why district leaders decided to combine them on the ballot instead of asking voters to choose between the two.
The bond levy portion of the ballot, an estimated 2.8 mills, would cost the owner of an average $250,000 home about $20 per month. The operating levy portion, an estimated 5.9 mills, would cost an additional $43 per month. Combined they would cost the average homeowner a total of $63 per month.
First, a facility needs assessment was conducted in 2015 by Strollo Architects with Thorson Baker, an engineering firm. In the assessment, architects and engineers examined the needs of the existing elementary buildings.
“Simultaneously we worked with architects, teachers, administrators and board members on a parallel track to understand what people would want to see in a new elementary building,” Hardis said.
The facility needs assessment took more than a year to complete, and the results were extensive.
“It [calls for] essentially gutting [the Bryden and Hilltop buildings] and rebuilding them with all new HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], plumbing, electrical, building envelope––everything,” Hardis said.
In addition, Mills said the cost of renovation tends to be more expensive than expected, which turned out to be the case during the renovation of the high school.
“With renovation, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you open the walls of the building,” she explained.
Renovation would also leave Bryden and Hilltop with the same design that was built almost sixty years ago, when security was not as important.
“When you walk into Hilltop, the front office is away from the door, same thing with Bryden,” Mills said.
Consolidating the elementary buildings will allow security improvements.
“For security reasons, we want somebody to greet visitors as soon as they enter the building,” Mills added.
Additionally, according to Mills, a consolidated elementary building would save an estimated half million dollars in annual operating costs.
Most of these savings would come from the operational areas of the district, such as reduced staffing in support services and reduced utility and maintenance costs.
Designed for Instruction
Administrators believe the design of the new building will support exceptional elementary education for the next fifty years.
“The design [of the consolidated elementary] that you now see was [shaped by discussions of] what people wanted to see, what kind of classroom designs they wanted,” Hardis said.
Those discussions evolved into conversations about where on the site classrooms would be placed and which rooms should be near one another and which should be separate.
Hardis believes that the new building will improve the elementary education experience in Beachwood.
“A good building can make a difference,” he said. “It needs to have the types of spaces and resources that support the type of education that we’re really blessed to offer in Beachwood.”
Hilltop Principal Rebecca Holthaus also thinks consolidation will benefit instructional opportunities.
“I think bringing a dynamic staff together like we have at Bryden and Hilltop will only enhance the current curriculum,” she said.
Holthaus also believes that consolidation will create more opportunities for younger and older students to connect.
“There will be great opportunities for peer relationships, for leadership in our older children and for our younger children to have positive role models,” Holthaus said, “Kids who are … above grade level can access grade levels above them, and students who need extra support can access support from grade levels below them.”
Hardis believes the new building will also attract young families whose kids aren’t yet in elementary school.
“Having this new building with so many exciting elements will attract families to Beachwood [and] retain existing families,” he said.
Addressing Traffic and Parking Concerns
To support a consolidated elementary building, the size of the Fairmount parking lot would have to be increased to create more parking spaces and to accommodate an adequate pick-up and drop-off loop.
The design of the new parking lot calls for expansion into the strip of land between Fairmount’s parking lot and that of the Beachwood Family Aquatic Center, which is city property.
City officials were interested in making changes to how cars enter the Aquatic Center’s parking lot because they tend to go very fast, creating a safety concern.
The police department favored closing down the Aquatic Center entrance and creating one entrance leading into the parking lot of the new building with an entrance off that into the Aquatic Center parking lot, creating more turns and a safer traffic flow.
“We worked with the Mayor’s administration throughout the whole design process, including the parking lot design, which was really just one more step in a long collaboration with all of the city’s departments,” Hardis said.
Athletic Facility Upgrades
In addition to a facility needs assessment, a master athletic facilities plan was completed in 2015 by Behnke and Associates to analyze all of Beachwood’s field spaces. The BHS stadium, completed in fall 2017, was the first phase of this plan.
The master plan also indicated the need for more field space, particularly for youth sports. To address this need, it was decided that if and when the consolidated elementary building is complete, the main Hilltop building would be torn down to create more field space for youth sports and community recreation.
The plan calls for the Hilltop gym to remain standing with bathrooms added to the structure.
The land will be converted to fields for use by the district and Beachwood’s recreation program. Walking paths and playground equipment will also be added.
“We need the field space because we’re land-locked, so other than the main building coming down [the Hilltop site] will remain intact and have enhancements,” Mills said.
Hardis thinks that doing so will not only benefit youth sports programs in Beachwood, but will benefit the city overall.
“Whether you send your kids to public schools or not, whether you even have kids of school age anymore, to have a park in Beachwood [is nice],” he said. “We’re a small community, [so] we don’t have a lot of parks.”
New Single-Family Homes
The district plans to auction off the Bryden property to a developer to create a new complex of single-family homes.
According to Mills, the sale of the 14.6-acre Bryden property is estimated to bring in a million dollars.
“We’ve been told that’s a very conservative number,” Mills said. “We’re hoping for more, but we’ll see.”
Hardis believes that developing more homes will also have a great impact on the community.
“We’re about five square miles, all of Beachwood,” he said. “We have no new land upon which to build single-family homes, which means that we are limited in terms of attracting young families who want to move here and buy a home.”
Hardis hopes that by taking advantage of the Bryden property to develop single family homes, the city will have created the first new housing development in several decades.
The Bryden site will also go from a non-taxable property to a taxable property, which will generate an estimated $125,000 annually for Beachwood Schools.
The Construction Process
If the levy passes, construction documents will be drafted and the project will be bid out to contractors.
Hardis hopes to break ground for the new building in the spring of 2019.
Construction is anticipated to take about fifteen or sixteen months, so the building should be complete by fall of 2020.
Students would continue attending school at Bryden and Hilltop until the day the new elementary building is ready to be opened.
Construction will be both seen and heard on the Fairmount site, but Hardis is optimistic that it won’t interfere significantly with the operations of the Fairmount building.
“The number of places where the current building and the addition actually connect is fairly limited, so we should be able to cordon off those areas,” Hardis said.
“There will be constant vigilance for safety purposes to make sure people aren’t interacting with heavy equipment or getting within the construction zone,” he added.
Hardis is optimistic that the residents of Beachwood will be supportive of consolidation.
“This is a community that has an incredible history of supporting public education,” he said.
According to Hardis, Beachwood’s senior citizens, who made up 32 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, have consistently voted to support public schools, even if they don’t have kids attending them anymore.
“[The older population of Beachwood] places a high value on education,” Hardis said. “They know that a strong public school system is very important for a strong and healthy community.”
Beachwood resident Cindy Keller is supportive of consolidation although she currently does not have any kids attending Beachwood schools.
“I think it’s a very good plan,” Keller said. “I agree with their proposal … because the old schools probably are going to start needing a lot of maintenance. I think it’s good that they are building a new, more modern and up-to-date school for the new children coming in.”
PTO parent Nancy Liang also agrees that a more modern building would be beneficial for her kids’ learning experience.
“You can see the air conditioning [and] the heating make a lot of noise, and there’s no updated technology,” Liang said. “We want to have new equipment for our kids [so] when they learn they can enjoy all those nice, updated things.”
PTO parent Vritika Krishnan is still on the fence.
“I do understand that the two existing buildings are old and need [repairing].”
At the same time, Krishan is concerned about the tax burden for Beachwood residents. She is also concerned about the traffic situation along Fairmount Blvd. once the new building is complete.
District leaders plan to mount a levy campaign this spring in order to inform the community about the benefits of elementary consolidation.
“We know we have our work cut out for us to educate the community on the tremendous benefits of passing the combined operating and bond levy,” Hardis said.
“We’ve given presentations probably the last three years, but many people still don’t know about it [and] don’t understand it,” Mills said.
“We’re hoping that we can educate our constituents to the point where they’ll support it,” she added.