By Kelly Cantwell – News Democrat
West Clermont Local School District Superintendent Keith Kline spoke about the district’s 10 year plan during the March 14 board of education meeting, which would reduce the district’s schools from 12 to nine.
He also spoke to community members on March 21 during a Community Conversation on the same topics.
Kline has been working with the Ohio Facilities Commission since 2014 on a plan that, once approved, will be the district’s master plan for the next 10 years.
The OFCC assessed the district’s eight elementary schools and recommends demolishing Brantner, Summerside and Willowville, renovating Clough Pike, Merwin and Holly Hill and not taking any action at Amelia and Withamsville-Tobasco.
Kline would like to replace Summerside and Willowville first, making them both capable of holding 750 students, because that’s where the most projected growth is over the next decade. He suggests the district closes Brantner and redistribute those students to Summerside, Clough Pike or Withamsville-Tobasco.
There is enough acreage at the Summerside and Willowville properties that the district can build the new schools while still using the current schools. There are no plans for the Brantner property currently, Kline said.
Next, Kline would like to completely renovate Clough Pike and add a new gym, rather than having the gym and cafeteria in the same space, a style he said many elementary schools are switching to. The renovations will likely cost $9 million.
“The first chip in that has to be in play is the state saying, ‘West Clermont, here’s your money,’” Kline said.
He expects $44 million from the state. The projected costs of all the elementary school projects comes in at $1.4 million more than the anticipated state money, but Kline believes there are ways to tweak the plan and cut costs, such as building both new elementary schools at the same time, that will reduce the costs by $1.4 million.
The board will likely be asked to approve funds from the state in May, which could come as soon as July but may not come until the summer of 2017. Kline wants to make sure they have an approved plan because if they are not ready when the state offers money it could be four or more years before they are offered money again.
“If we’re up we need to take the money,” Kline said.
Merwin and Holly Hill are in the best condition, but still need renovated, which will likely cost about $17.5 million. The district may need to ask voters to pass a .75 mill bond issue to be able to renovate the two buildings, but has no immediate plans to ask the board to put it on the ballot, Kline said.
The state assessed the district’s buildings in 2014, which was good because the predicted enrollment numbers have increased dramatically, and higher enrollment means more money from the state, Kline said.
The district will likely increase by 1,500 students by 2025, which made the staff stop and consider their long range plan to make sure they can house all those students.
Fortunately, Kline expected an increase, so the new West Clermont High School was already planned to house 2,500 students when it’s done.
West Clermont High School is on track and on budget. The HealthPlex sets the high school apart and makes it a community based high school.
The board approved the OFCC’s official review of the design phase of WCHS, which was also approved by West Clermont’s project manager, during the meeting.
The remodel of the Amelia Middle and High School, which will become West Clermont Middle School, is going well. The maintenance department renovated 31 classrooms last summer.
The board also approved a resolution that allows the district to advertise for bids to complete the renovations.
Renovations to the school will include major renovations to the cafeteria to make it able to serve a large number of students. It will be turned into more of a food court style area.
The district’s total investment into the middle school and the new high school will be $104 million, Kline said.
The project is funded through a Tax Increment Finance district agreement with Union Township and the balance will be funded by permanent improvement funds, Kline said.
The elementary school project will not begin until after the middle school and high school are complete. The earliest Kline expects the new Summerside and Willowville to open is 2019 or 2020.
If all goes to plan, West Clermont will have built a new high school and two new elementary schools and renovated a middle school and an elementary school without asking the taxpayers for money.
“That is unbelievable,” Kline said.
The next step is to continue to collect feedback until April 11. The district has to send the plan to the state by April 15. The Board of Education will need to approve the new master plan from the state by the end of May, and then the district will wait to hear when they will receive money, Kline said.
One of the ways the district is receiving feedback is from community conversations, which are being held primarily to discuss the plans for the elementary buildings. Kline spoke at the first one on March 21 at Willowville Elementary.
Kline spoke about much of what he presented at the board of education meeting, and he took questions from the more than 20 attendees about both the plans for the elementary schools and the middle and high school.
Kristal Abel, of Union Township, is part of the Parent Teacher Organization and even though her daughter will be too old to attend the new elementary schools, she wanted to be informed.
Lacey Poynter, also of Union Township, will have a son that will likely attend a new building.
“I feel like he cleared up a few things and was able to explain everything more to the point than the rumors and things we’ve been hearing,” Poynter said.
Kline wanted to hold the community conversations to make sure that the residents and parents are informed of what seems to be the best plan for the district, he said.
He feels that the first session went well and that attendees asked a lot of good questions.
“I want to make sure that I’m able to answer the questions that the community and parents have. We’re trying to be very good stewards of their resources,” Kline said.
Two more community conversations will be held, one at Brantner Elementary on April 4 and one at Summerside Elementary on April 6, both from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.