Last updated: August 29. 2014 5:32PM - 3095 Views
By - ryancarter@civitasmedia.com

Miami Trace has reached a preliminary agreement to purchase farmland as a location for its proposed new high school.
Miami Trace has reached a preliminary agreement to purchase farmland as a location for its proposed new high school.
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The Miami Trace Local School District has chosen a site for its proposed new high school.

This week, officials announced that the district has reached a preliminary agreement with a local landowner to purchase a nearly 60-acre piece of farmland beside the existing high school football stadium. The Miami Trace Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution ratifying a letter of intent to purchase the property, located off Bloomingburg-New Holland Road, from Bernadine Allen.

“We need somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 acres minimum to build a high school,” said Miami Trace Business Manager Bill Franke. “The reason we have double the amount is that part of the condition of the sale was that we take it all. We will be exploring options as far as what to do with the remainder of it.”

A 3.9-mill, 37-year bond issue for a new high school will be on the November general election ballot.

The purchase is for just under 60 acres at approximately $17,000 an acre, according to officials. The total cost of the proposed project is around $35.5 million with the Ohio School Facilities Commission committed to paying 31 percent of the project, which is just over $11 million. The local share of the project is 69 percent, or around $24.5 million.

With locally-funded initiatives (LFIs), such as building enhancements, an auditorium, a competition-size gymnasium, and stadium seating and related facilities, the locally-funded share increases to approximately $31 million.

With the site of the proposed new high school close to the 52-year-old existing high school, it would allow Miami Trace to keep the new high school on the same campus area, located on State Route 41, as the new elementary and the new middle school. The current high school would then be demolished.

“Our priority was to keep the campus feel,” said Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis. “We believe we reached a fair price for us and a fair price for Mrs. Allen. We approached other landowners as well, but in the end, this site made the most sense for us. They were very cooperative during the negotiations and we worked well together throughout the whole process. The deal is likely to close after the first of the year.”

Miami Trace has three opportunities to pass a bond issue for a new high school with the state locked in at funding 31 percent of the project.

“We are still buying the land whether the bond issue passes or not,” said Lewis. “We have to pass it this November or at special elections in May or August. This site is going to be the site of a new Miami Trace High School at some point in the future. We hope it’s sooner rather than later, but that’s up to the voters. We’re optimistic and hopeful that it passes in November, but if not, the land is still sitting there ready to go.”

This site also allows for the construction of a new facility without disrupting the rest of the campus setting.

“That is always a concern….the safety of our students,” said Franke. “But this allows us the ability to have a blank slate with the design of the facility. We’re not necessarily trying to take a building and make it fit. One thing we know for sure is it’s going to echo what we already have. We want to keep that same type of theme, probably the same shade of brick. High schools are typically a little more ornate than the other buildings on campus. But the most important thing is that the building is functional. We put the money into the classrooms and the educational spaces, and we’re conservative in our design process.”

If the bond issue is successful in November, the school district won’t waste any time in moving forward.

“We would move on to selecting the design firm,” said Franke. “We work with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and they will partner with us on selecting an architect.”

Before the sale closes, the district still must conduct an environmental study of the land, although Franke said it’s highly unlikely there will be any issues. “We still have to do our due diligence,” he said.

Construction would begin in late summer or early fall of 2015 and the building would be ready by the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, providing the bond issue passes in November.

The proposed new building will be approximately 146,000 square feet, which is slightly larger than the current building if modular buildings are included. The state share of a project is primarily based on the total property valuation of a school district. The higher the property valuation, the lower the state share. Miami Trace’s total property valuation increased substantially (50 percent) since the passage of the middle school project in 2008.

The property valuation increased because the Rockies Express Pipeline valuation (2010) increased the value of Tanger Outlet Mall when sold in 2011, and the reappraisal of Fayette County property in 2012. The state share percentage decreases if the property valuation increases.

“This is the best deal we’re going to get….the cheapest we’re going to get it for,” said Lewis. “We’ve received $11 million from the state so we might as well use it. This is a business decision.”

Assuming the passage of the bond issue, taxpayers with a $75,000 property value would pay $102 annually. For a $100,000 property value, the tax amount would be $137 annually.

If Miami Trace hadn’t received any funding from the state and the district had to pay the total project cost plus the LFIs for a total price of over $42 million, the millage on a bond issue would be 5.1.

District officials describe the current high school, which opened in 1962, as “inadequate.”

From a maintenance perspective, the building’s major systems are at the end of their usable life, according to Franke. The building has a lack of modern safety and security systems; it has an outdated technology infrastructure; it has an escalating repair cost (which would have to be 100 percent locally funded); its electric, plumbing, heating, etc. systems are past the expected life span; the building structure is aging; and it has a long history of roof, window and wall leaks.

According to district officials, a conservative estimate of over $3.5 million has been spent on maintaining the current high school over the past five years. This figure only includes major maintenance items, not daily upkeep.

For maintenance of the current building over the next five to 10 years, school officials say that major items may have to be replaced, such as: windows, the heating distribution system, a roof over the gym and auditorium, electrical branch circuits, the sewer line under the vocational agriculture classroom, the kitchen and cafeteria, the roof on the modular building, and technology systems. The cost for those replacements is estimated to be anywhere from $6 million to $7.5 million.

“The community is going to have to make the decision,” Franke said. “Do you want to make a major investment in a 52-year-old building….because we’re going to need to, or is time to move on? Anything we put into that building is 100 percent local money….there’s no state match. We are attempting to make wise decisions with people’s tax dollars. But the option to do nothing doesn’t exist.”

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