The Chagrin Falls school district is one step closer to the construction of a new transportation facility, a project the school board has been working toward for years that was originally slated to begin in the summer of 2022.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and following cuts of state funding in the spring of 2020, the construction of a new transportation hub had since been placed on the backburners as the district shifted gears and reconsidered capital priorities. With students back in class, it’s time to revisit the project, but the construction start time is looking to be around 2024.

The board approved a contract for professional design services with ThenDesign Architecture, or TDA, not to exceed $5,000 for the potential improvements to the district’s maintenance and transportation facilities, as well as for work including a site survey, geotechnical testing and environmental site assessment in an amount not to exceed $50,000 during their Sept. 1 meeting.

Ryan Schmidt of TDA, in a presentation to the Chagrin Board of Education, outlined a preliminary scope of the potential facility that would replace two existing buildings in the district. The project was originally estimated cost the district between $1.6 million and $2 million for the construction and is now roughly estimated to cost between $2 million and $3 million.

Mr. Schmidt said TDA has worked with Chagrin since the development of their capital master plan from 2018 and first proposed the construction of the new transportation facility in 2019.

Other projects the 17-year-old firm has completed in the district recently include the tennis courts in 2020 and exterior lighting and roofing updates over the summer and into the start of the current school year.

Problems with the current transportation building, located at the rear of Gurney Elementary School, include narrow access around bus bays; a small tool crib; lack of storage; replacement needs for fencing, lighting and other peripheral amenities; lack of work areas; narrow space for workbench and air compressor and little space for a break room or offices, he recapped.

As for the maintenance facility, located in the former band and music building on the middle/high school campus, Mr. Schmidt outlines similar issues like lack of storage and limited workspace in addition to access difficulties or the fact that some maintenance vehicles are stored in the same space as office and work areas.

In proposing a conceptual plan, Mr. Schmidt showed rough concepts to the board. The concept plan featured a combined 6,000-square-foot maintenance and transportation building with a 1,000-square-foot storage mezzanine that would be located above the shared building spaces.

“This is not a design, this is purely a concept plan that we did for just initial pricing, initial time duration studies, things of that nature,” he explained. The concept could be one of many as the district determines their needs versus wants. “Nothing’s set in stone.”

According to the concept plan, such a project is now estimated to cost between $2 million and $3 million, subject to change according to market conditions and supply shortages, Mr. Schmidt noted.

In outlining a timeline for the project, Mr. Schmidt explained that pre-design activities, like the site survey or geotechnical testing, would take about two months to complete. Following this, he said getting the designs and documentation finalized, including drawings and specifications, would take an additional three to four months. Bidding, he estimated to take approximately one to two months, and construction at about six to eight months.

He said as the process continues, cost estimates and designs will become more defined before the board would ultimately go out to bid the project.

Board member Sharon Broz explained that the board needs to have more discussions on the scope of the project and how it balances with the district budget, explaining that having both facilities on one campus might not be the endgame for the project because while it may be the most efficient design, it may not be financially feasible.

“We have to get in the mindset of, we are going to have to do things along the way that are not the best we can do because we have to pay attention to every dollar spent,” she said, asking the board to consider where this lies in priority with other projects in the district.

Board Vice President Kathryn Garvey, chairwoman of the board Capital Planning Committee, said the committee can revisit the prioritization.

“We have a process in place for prioritizing projects based on need and what’s coming up in the district, and so I think we need to revisit the prioritization,” she said, pointing out that she, however, is in full support of starting the site surveys for the project even if construction isn’t expected to begin until about 2024. “I think that’s a very smart way to go,” she said.

“We know how long each phase is going to take us into the future, and unless something’s changed, I don’t think we have an urgency to have this done in the spring,” Mrs. Garvey said. “So, we’re going to optimize our finances and do it when we can do it the most cost effectively without taking away from the capabilities of the [facility].

“I’m hoping, personally, that we can bring the scope and the budget together and be really clear about what we want to achieve and for what budget,” she said.

Sam joined the Times in 2019 and covers several communities and schools in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County. She also oversees the features/community events and the website. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.

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