After experiencing what Orange Board of Education President Beth Wilson-Fish called “sticker shock” at the $3.24 million guaranteed maximum price for the Orange High School renovation, the board members and the district administration are looking for ways to cut costs.

Albert M. Higley Co. gave the board the guaranteed maximum price for the project, which includes a locker room renovation and a new front entrance at the high school, in February. The board has not voted yet to approve the price or to move forward with the project. At the meeting on March 13, the board members discussed how they could reduce the cost of the project. Melanie Weltman was not present.

“This has grown as a project,” Superintendent Lynn Campbell of the Orange City School District said. “There was initial discussion about a potential cosmetic refresh of the area. That can be an ongoing discussion but I have in my heart a drive to say that we should do it right.”

Dr. Campbell explained that the goal of the project is to maximize the use of the locker room space, noting that much of the large space is currently unused. He said that there is an “equity issue” when comparing the women’s varsity locker room to the men’s varsity locker room.

Part of this renovation would also increase coach supervision in the training areas and add two to three gender neutral restrooms. Dr. Campbell added that the renovation would accommodate the growing wrestling team and include a seasonal locker room to house teams that currently do not use locker room space.

Treasurer Todd Puster said that this locker room area is the oldest part of Orange High School and dates back to the original structure from the 1950s.

Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that the residents have the wrong impression and think that the district will spend $3.24 million on this project. Dr. Campbell clarified that the district could spend up to $3.24 million but is actively seeking ways to reduce the cost. For example, by choosing a smaller entrance for the high school, he said the project cost should be closer to $2.7 million.

Board member Jeff Leikin and Vice President Rebecca Boyle said that for the renovation of Brady Middle School that was completed in 2019, the board passed the guaranteed maximum price, then found ways to trim the budget later.

“We’re all in agreement that certain things have to be done,” board member Deborah Kamat said. “What we disagree on is whether everything needs to be done at once.”

Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that the board agrees that the high school needs a more secure front entrance and they need to maximize the use of the locker room space. The locker room renovation would also revamp the HVAC and electrical wiring. She questioned if the high school needs new furniture near the entrance and whether there needs to be a media room as part of the locker room renovation.

“We’re going into a levy and I don’t have a crystal ball,” Mrs. Kamat said. “If I knew the community was behind this big renovation and the levy was going to pass, then I’d say, ‘Sure, this is neat.’ I feel like we’re prioritizing athletics a lot and we’re running a school system. I think we need to prioritize funding for our academic programs.”

Mr. Leikin said that the size of the project has not changed since September. He said that if the board chose to do this renovation, the permanent improvement fund would not be depleted. The fund had $6 million as of June 2019, according to financial reports. Board members considered breaking the project out into phases, but Mr. Leikin said that it is more efficient to do it all now rather than delay necessary repairs.

“I think the project is a great project,” he said. “I think it’s cost effective.”

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is March 30 at 6 p.m. It will be live streamed because the board cannot estimate the crowd size and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned gatherings of 50 people or more to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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