MASSILLON – The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission is expected to contribute $15 million to help Massillon City Schools construct two new elementary schools.
The OFCC meet last week and approved the state’s share of $15,219,211 for the project, Superintendent Paul Salvino said. The state Controlling Board is expected to approve the release of the funds next month.
The agreement with the OFCC is the result of many back and forth meetings with the commission.
For some time, district officials have been working with the OFCC to secure funding to build new schools to replace the district’s aging elementary schools.
Under the plan, the district will contribute $29,807,375 to construct two pre-kindergarten through third grades schools — one on the city’s west side and the other on the east side of town.
‘We have the money in hand for the project.’
District officials have long wanted to address the aging elementary schools.
Whittier Elementary is 82 years old. Franklin is 66 years old and Gorrell was built 65 years ago.
The buildings have space issues, are not energy efficient, and are not equipped to handle growing technology, officials say.
The district has sunk millions into maintenance, from replacing boilers to repairing the plumbing and heating systems.
Salvino and his team have had numerous conversations with the OFCC during the past three years. When the pandemic hit, those talks were put on hold.
This year, talks picked back up.
Even before Salvino took the helm at his alma mater, district officials have been working with the OFCC to address district facilities.
In 2014, the state approved funding for the construction of new schools, but voters rejected the plan twice. Both of those plans included bond issues. This time around, the district isn’t asking taxpayers to foot the bill.
“We have the money in hand for the project,” Salvino said.
Last year, the Board of Education created a capital project fund with $25 million the district had set aside during the past few years to pay for building new elementary schools or renovating the existing elementary buildings and Washington High School. If these funds are not spent by October 2029, they will need to be returned to the district’s general fund.
Salvino said the funding was the result of tough decisions made by former board members who decided to close district elementary schools and consolidate them into three schools reducing operational costs and energy consumption.
“I know the community was upset but it didn’t pay to operate all of the school buildings with the way enrollment was,” he said. “There was a savings the district started to see just as we anticipate we will see when we go from three (elementary) schools to two,” he said.
Salvino also credits the district’s transparent spending and “superb management” of district dollars.
What are the next steps?
State funding is based on a number of factors set by the OFCC. They consider the district’s existing facilities and enrollment.
During the past three years, the funding the state was willing to put up for the project fluctuated.
Officials considered renovating the district’s elementary schools, but the costs were too high.
When the state funding was lower than anticipated, Salvino asked if the district could resubmit enrollment figures. The new evaluation showed the district was seeing a slight increase in student population prompting a review of the funding.
Finally, the two sides came to a financial agreement.
“We had a great ongoing collaborative relationship with the OFCC,” Salvino said. “We are excited to be able to finally right-size the district and set the tone for the future of the school district.”
Under the plan, the district will fund about 67% — or $29,807,375 — of the $45,807,375 project costs, but Salvino said the total cost will likely grow with locally funded initiatives, items the state will not fund.
For instance, the district might decide to widen hallways within the new schools, add classrooms, and make the entrance and parking lots larger. Those costs are not supported by the state’s formula.
“Due to how the OFCC calculates these school district projects, according to the OFCC figures the square footage of Washington High School would justify moving sixth, seventh and eighth grade into the current high school,” Salvino said. “We are not going to do that.”
Where will the new schools be located?
A location for the new schools has not been determined, but Salvino said the schools will be built on existing district-owned property. Land is available at the middle school, high school and the former Bowers Elementary site. They have also considered the site of Smith Elementary School, which houses the district administrative offices and the pre-school, as well as the existing elementary school grounds.
Each of the potential sites have been evaluated and core samples have been taken to determine if the land is suitable, Salvino said. They are awaiting the results of the tests. He hopes to be able to provide the location of the new schools, as well as a timeline for construction, after the start of the new year.
If the funding clears the state board, the district also will begin looking for a project architect. The process will include the OFCC, he said.
‘It really is an exciting time.’
Officials will have to work closely with teachers and staff to ensure the buildings are equipped to meet Massillon students’ needs. He also anticipates working closely with the district’s three unions to blend the staffs of the three elementary schools.
Salvino does not foresee a reduction in force. Until the new schools are ready to welcome new students, officials will closely watch staffing. For instance, if someone retires do they need to replace them.
“In the end, we have the same amount of kids to feed, transport and teach,” he said.
He estimates each school will have around 650 students.
While they forge ahead on the plan, Salvino said they will take their time to ensure they get things right.
“It really is an exciting time,” he said. “When you can do things that will directly impact our district for the next 50 to 80 years, it’s exciting. We won’t take it for granted. We know it is going to be a lot of work but this is good work. This is future planning. These are the things we need to focus on.”
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Massillon Elementary Schools
- Whittier Elementary School, 1212 10th St. NE. Built in 1939.
- Franklin Elementary School, 1237 16th St. SE. Built in 1955.
- Gorrell Elementary School, 2420 Schuler Ave. NW. Built in 1956.