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Auditorium plans shaping up for September vote

Board continues tweaking

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist

SOLON– In two weeks, everyone should have a much clearer picture of the direction the school board is going with its plans for a new middle school and auditorium.
At least, that’s what Superintendent Sam Miller thinks.
Updated concept drawings and price estimates were presented to the members of the Solon Community School District’s (SCSD) Board of Education last week as they continued preparing a bond issue for consideration by district voters later this year.
For the second month in a row, board members held a special work session with John Darveau and Craig Schwerdtfeger of Struxture Architects to review preliminary plans for a new middle school and a performing arts center on the east end of the high school.
The latest round of preliminary plans and cost estimates included an early look at the interior of the 900-seat performing arts center, but most of the May 13 special meeting was spent discussing the general designs– from the flow of lunch traffic through the new middle school cafeteria to the dampening of sound between the auditorium’s lobby and seating– and the associated price tags.
Right now, the school board is still targeting a bond issue in the general vicinity of $25 million, a number Miller called conservative. “It’s not the maximum, but an amount we knew the district could make payments on,” he said subsequent to the work session.
Cost estimates have fluctuated as the board and staff have provided input, he said. The price for the performing arts center has risen to nearly $9 million, and revisions are expected that will increase the size of the proposed middle school slightly.
Additionally, the board has ancillary projects like improvements to Racine Avenue to consider as well. The anticipated need to upgrade Racine Avenue, and the possibility of a pedestrian overpass/underpass, were discussed at the Tuesday meeting.
Racine runs between the new middle school site and the high school, and managing the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be part of the planning process.
“We were trying to think of some way to help the traffic flow yet allow for people to walk back and forth,” high school principal Nathan Wear observed.
Darveau researched both elevated walkways and tunnels and indicated the costs for each appeared to be similar, about $250,000.
On the cheaper end, around $35,000, would be a push-button walk light similar to the one on Highway 1.
Board President Dick Schwab voiced support for the protected walkways.
“I’d probably still vote for it,” he said. “Most of our drivers through there are not going to be the most experienced drivers, and we really don’t want to put kids at risk.”
Miller said the slope of the road was his concern.
“If you’re coming from the north over that hill, there’s just not a lot of time to see right where people are going to be walking,” Miller said.
The key, board member Rick Jedlicka said, will be looking at how much student traffic will go back and forth between the two buildings.
“I think it’s just going to continue to grow and grow,” Jedlicka said. “A push-button light would be great, but it’s just going to be red all the time.”
Soon, however, the board will have to start prioritizing.
“I think you guys have a pretty good idea on the budget where we are, which is very much up against it,” Miller said.
There are also deadlines looming for the board to have an election in September. The board is expected to take action on the official language for a bond issue ballot question at its June meeting, and that means a firm number on borrowing must be set by that time.
Miller wants the board members to have another discussion about financing, not only regarding a bond issue for a middle school and auditorium, but for a second phase that will likely create a fourth attendance center within 10 years.
The district has some flexibility with its borrowing– the bonding capacity projections were based on modest growth estimates and the school can also dip into its SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education, the one-cent state sales tax which funds school infrastructure projects) funds to back-fill bond payments.
But committing the sales tax revenues to the current projects would leave less for future boards to work with, Miller pointed out.
“At the end of the day, a referendum has to pass and it has to go to bid,” he said.
Currently, another work session for the board has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 28