Nordonia holds community open forum on bond levy

by Laura Bednar

The Nordonia Hills Board of Education held a community forum about the 7.75-mill bond levy that will appear on the November ballot, which, if passed, will be used to construct three new schools.

Superintendent Dr. Joe Clark began the evening with an overview of the events that led to adding the bond levy to the ballot. Clark said $3 million was spent on capital improvements since 2019, and Nordonia is the only district in Summit County that does not have a permanent improvement levy. He added that a 2019 evaluation of the district school buildings by The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission found that renovations would cost $118 million, and that the cost to renovate each building was greater than two-thirds the cost of replacement. Today, Clark continued, costs to renovate have increased to $136 million.

A steering committee of community members, formed to discuss the future of the district’s buildings, recommended consolidating from six buildings to three. Architect firm SoL Harris/Day created a master plan for a three-building district. A school for grades K-4 is planned for the Lee Eaton site, and a new middle school and high school at the current high school site.

Clark said if the levy were to pass and new buildings built, Lee Eaton and the existing high school would be demolished, but the fate of the remaining buildings is up in the air. New building designs would follow the bonds passage. He estimated that the primary and middle schools would be built first and completed for the 2026-27 school year. The high school had an estimated completion date for the 2028-29 school year.

“Voting for the schools is a sacrifice,” said Clark, noting that many people at the forum would not directly benefit from the schools.

Community Q&A

Nordonia parent Kelly Loomis said that the current schools are not accommodating to students with disabilities or injuries. “Kids in all schools are going without a full educational experience,” she said. “Voting yes on issue 5 is the only way for students to succeed.”

Community member John Patterson asked how much the state is giving the district to renovate or replace buildings. Domenic Ferrante, of SoL Harris Day Architecture, said the state ranks districts based on a wealth factor. If Nordonia were to pursue state funding, it would receive six cents for every dollar spent on improvements. If the district were to accept state funding, Nordonia would then have to partner with Ohio.

“When you partner with the state, they dictate rules you have to follow [when building],” said Ferrante.

Former board member Tammy Strong asked why the district wouldn’t accept state funding. Ferrante explained that there is no application for state funding and Ohio offers money on its own time, in a sort of “lottery” among all school districts.

“If you wait until the state is ready for you, inflation will rise,” he said, adding that it could be several years before the state offered Nordonia the money.

Strong also said that three new buildings were unnecessary. “The community wanted neighborhood school buildings,” she said.

Patterson asked about air conditioning, “How many months do we really use it? It might make the students tougher [without it].” He added that people in manual labor positions work without air conditioning.

“In every industry, it’s always nice to be in better conditions,” said board member Jason Tidmore. “Do we want to continue to ask students to perform in subpar conditions?”

Community member Barbara Luczywo said the teachers make the difference, not the buildings themselves. She then asked what happens if the cost of constructing new buildings increases.

Treasurer Matt Brown said the money the district would get from the levy would be placed in investment accounts, which will accrue interest to mitigate increased costs.

Luczywo also asked what the OFCC report was based on, noting that the cost of renovations may have included different standards such as LEED certification, which measures efficiency and sustainability.

Ferrante said the report is a baseline, which does not include additional construction like moving walls, but the state would require LEED certification if Nordonia partnered with them for funds.

Tidmore added that, “it’s fiscally irresponsible to renovate buildings that are close to end of life.”

Board member Chad Lahrmer said if the district tried to consolidate schools now, they would not be able to accommodate all the students.

Ferrante said the proposed K-4 building would be 127,000 square feet for an enrollment of close to 1,200 students; the middle school building would be 142,000 square feet for close to 1,000 students; and the high school would be 200,000 square feet for almost 1,100 students.

Clark said that SoL Harris/day is the pre-bond architect and the school board would have to choose an architect for the new schools if the levy passed.

“If other districts build new, how do we think teachers are going to stay?” said community member Karen Byers. “If we want to maintain excellence, we have to do something about it.” ∞