The Orange Board of Education unanimously approved a proposal to design the new front entrance at Orange High School at a cost of $79,450 at the board meeting last week. The project to create a new front entrance at the high school with security enhancements has been under discussion for two years.

The firm designing the entrance is ThenDesign Architecture, the same company that designed the Brady Middle School renovation. The board is considering renovating the front entrance at the high school at the same time as the locker room renovation, which would have a combined price tag of $3.8 million, according to Orange Superintendent Lynn Campbell. If the projects are completed separately, the cost will be higher, he said.

The front entrance design already received preliminary approval from Pepper Pike’s Architectural Review Board. The contract with ThenDesign Architecture approved last week is for preliminary and final designs. Board Vice President Melanie Weltman said the entrance is “imperfect” and comes at a “high cost.”

“The question then becomes whether we can afford to do this now based on the previous discussion of how much we have in the [permanent improvement fund],” Ms. Weltman said. “This is a very expensive entryway.” If completed separately from the locker room project, the front entrance would cost $1.13 million.

Dr. Campbell said once ThenDesign Architecture draws the final plans, Albert M. Higley Co. can give the board the guaranteed maximum price for the project. Although the architectural review board approved the preliminary design, Ms. Weltman said they review the aesthetics, not the safety of the proposed entrance. Dr. Campbell said a double door entryway with a buzzer is a modern practice.

“The true best practice, call it safety and security, call it modern standard, like every other building on campus is to have them [visitors] buzzed, entered into a waiting area then buzzed in again, away from the student body,” Dr. Campbell said. “Again, is there security in that? Is there safety in that? Yeah.”

The board members agreed that the front entrance renovation is part of a continuing review of safety procedures in all of the district’s buildings. Dr. Campbell also asked board members about their permanent improvement fund. The district has a permanent improvement levy, which brings about $1 million of revenue to the district per year. The permanent improvement fund currently has about $5 million, but Dr. Campbell asked how much the board should strive to keep in that fund and how it should be used.

Ms. Weltman said she would prefer to keep $3 million as a minimum balance in the permanent improvement fund but “could probably live with $2.5 million.” Part of that fund balance can be spent on projects, but some of the funds should be set aside for emergencies only. Board member Beth Wilson-Fish said the district needs to carefully consider “the needs and the wants.”

“We’ve run into a situation where we’ve got more dollar value in projects than anticipated revenue, so what should we be exploring going forward?” Treasurer Todd Puster asked. “Do we cut projects? Do we postpone projects? Do we try to find other ways to do projects? Do we do some potential value engineering?”

Board member Scott Bilsky said he prefers a minimum fund balance of $2.5 million to $3 million due to the “aging infrastructure” on Orange’s campus.

“I think that the money is meant to be spent, not down. We need an emergency fund,” Board President Rebecca Boyle said.

Past school board members passed a resolution to keep at least 90 days’ worth of operating expenses in the general fund at all times. Board member Jeff Leikin said that if the district implemented a similar rule for the permanent improvement fund, the language would be critical. He said he would prefer more “room to breathe” because emergency circumstances cannot be anticipated. Mr. Puster said a ratio would be better than a hard number.

The board did not make a decision regarding a policy to establish a minimum balance in the permanent improvement fund. The next board meeting is on Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Pepper Pike Learning Center, 32000 Chagrin Blvd.

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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