A Partnership with the State
CPS was among the first urban districts in Ohio to address building concerns in conjunction with the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), the agency directing a statewide campaign to upgrade all Ohio school buildings to the same standard and quality.
Cincinnati Public Schools’ students moved into upgraded buildings sooner than originally expected, thanks to pressure from CPS officials to convince the Ohio legislature to move urban school districts higher on the list. The original timetable put CPS into 2010 before state assistance would have been available. Instead, CPS opened five new schools in 2005 — the first constructed in the district since the 1980s.
Cincinnati Public also was ahead of other urban districts by having hired a Construction Manager and a Master Architect to work in conjunction with CPS and OSFC officials to formulate the Facilities Master Plan.
"We consider CPS a model for what OSFC wants to happen in city school districts," said Colleen Rezabeck with OSFC.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission developed guidelines to ensure that all children attend school in up-to-date buildings:
- Schools must be reconstructed if the cost to renovate the structure exceeds 66 percent of the building’s value.
- Any building that houses students must be included in the master plan. There are no opt-out clauses.
- No school can have fewer than 350 students.
- Square footage in a school is based on number of students to ensure equity.
- Elementary classrooms are to be 900 square feet and designed for no more than 25 students.
Forming the basis of the Facilities Master Plan was OSFC’s school-by-school assessment, which determined the cost to bring each building up to OSFC standards. If the cost to renovate amounted to more than 66 percent of the cost to rebuild, the state generally contributed money only toward new construction.
Rebuild or Renovate
The assessments reached an ironic conclusion for many CPS buildings: Older buildings often were rated better than relatively newer buildings, many of which received recommendations to be torn down and rebuilt.
The reason: Construction methods and materials in the 1950s produced buildings that don’t lend themselves to renovation as well as buildings erected decades earlier.
According to the OSFC assessments, 15 of the district’s schools came in under the 66 percent cutoff. That means the state recommended replacing 80 percent of some CPS’ buildings
District officials applied for waivers from the rebuild/renovate rule based on compelling causes, such as a building’s historical significance or where facilities are shared with another agency.
Excess Space Costly
District and state officials also wanted to eliminate costly extra classroom space. The district’s enrollment has dropped by about 15 percent over past years, and, according to a study of birth rates and population-migration patterns, it will continue to decline more over the next decade.
That left CPS with about 1.8 million square feet of expensive, unnecessary space.
New construction created the opportunity to build schools specifically designed for teachers working in teams, the educational model CPS adopted as best for ensuring success of its standards-based curriculum. The Facilities Master Plan recommended designing schools with classrooms clustered in groups — unlike the century-old model of classrooms lined up along a central hallway.
The standards included stipulations such as all schools will be air-conditioned and every classroom wired for computers. There was flexibility to meet a district’s specific needs; for example, the OSFC agreed to allow CPS to build a new school on 4.5 acres instead of the 13 acres it requires in more rural districts.
The OSFC Design Manual, a six-inch thick binder, gives standards for everything that will go into new or renovated school buildings — from furniture to windows to the size of the classrooms and the equipment each classroom contains. The manual ranks items as good, better and best, giving districts the option to pick from the high-, middle- or low-cost range.
The standards were developed with assistance from superintendents, teachers, architects and construction managers locally and from around the nation.