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Construction Costs Rising: Changes Imminent for Elyria Schools Master Plan

The Elyria Board of Education met Saturday, March 17, 2018, to discuss proposed cost-savings changes to the Elyria Schools Master Plan of Facilities.


The board did not make a decision, but the discussions were critically important to construction projects that are already underway. The state of Ohio has recommended changes to the Elyria Schools project, which would bring costs within budget.


The board is evaluating three possible changes, although one in particular may be most suitable for the district to accomplish its cost-savings needs while maintaining the integrity of the Master Plan of Facilities.


The state-recommended change would call for the construction of three campuses: Northwood (K-8), Westwood (PreK-8) and Eastern Heights (K-8). In this scenario, the district’s preschool program would be located at Westwood Campus. (Under the prior plan, it was slated for Northwood Campus). Also under the state-recommended plan, the three campuses will be larger than originally intended. Under this state-recommended plan, however, the most significant deviation from the original project is the elimination of two K-4 school buildings (Ely and McKinley).


Two other proposed changes to the plan were discussed briefly, but they did not involve significant cost savings. The details of the proposed plans will be posted to the school district’s website.


It’s important to understand that a volatile market for construction costs over the past two years has forced Elyria Schools to reexamine the size and nature of the plan to build new school buildings throughout the city.


When Elyria voters first approved the bond issue in November 2016, the state of Ohio saw a surge in similar projects. School districts throughout the state saw voters collectively approve an unprecedented number of construction projects—all told, more than $1 billion dollars in new construction hit the market at once.


In Elyria, the construction budget had been set two years ago. Construction costs have been rising steadily since, at a pace not foreseen as a result of national- and state-level trends (a tariff on steel—the impact of which is yet to be seen—as well as a new state law that mandates reinforced areas of new school buildings to serve as storm shelters.)


Under the scope of the original plan, the Elyria Schools Master Plan of Facilities contained two phases. In the current market conditions, the first phase alone—which proposed building a new Ely Elementary School (K-4) and a new Northwood Campus (Pk-8)—would exceed the original cost by a minimum of $3 million. (Note this is under the current conditions; as the environment changes, the cost overruns would likely worsen.) This scenario exists even as the district previously made changes to the original plan to keep the project within its original budget.


Under the state-recommended plan, the timeline of the project will also change.


Northwood Campus (K-8) would tentatively open in December 2019. Eastern Heights Campus (K-8) and Westwood Campus (PreK-8) would tentatively open in December 2020. This delays Northwood’s opening by about six months, but it also means Eastern Heights and Westwood campuses would likely be opening sooner than originally expected. To accomplish this, a transition period would require students to be relocated temporarily to existing school district buildings, while the construction is completed. The details of these logistics would be fine-tuned following the board’s approval of any changes.


Present at the March 17, 2018, meeting was the Ohio School Facilities Commission (Ohio Facilities Construction Company), the Elyria City School District’s partner in the project at two-thirds the share of construction costs for new elementary and middle schools. Also present was the district’s construction manager, AECOM, and architect, Architectural Vision Group (AVG).