Tusky Valley seeks help to fund new auditorium

Tusky Valley seeks help to fund new auditorium

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

In a letter to Tusky Valley Local School District community and school supporters, superintendent Mark Murphy’s language was short and to the point: the financial impact of the COVID pandemic is threatening the plan to include an auditorium as part of the new school project.

“I’m graciously and boldly asking people who believe in the project and are willing to give generously to do so,” Murphy said. “We are casting the net to express the need and hopefully catch both large and small donors, as well as people who just want to get involved, because time is truly of the essence.”

Involvement can take the shape of contacting and writing letters to legislators or contacting people who may be willing to give. In the meantime he said the district will continue pursuing grants, foundations and other alternative funding.

According to Murphy, when the district learned it would receive utility tax revenue generated by the Rover Pipeline, they decided early on the money would not be used for operations, salaries or other expenses that must come out of the general fund. Instead, they decided to use the funds to support the district’s comprehensive vision to bring all of the schools together on one campus without having to ask the community to pass a tax levy in the future.

Murphy said the district’s commitment from the beginning has been to utilize Rover Pipeline dollars to fund the local share of the project, which is co-funded by the State of Ohio, to construct a new grade 7-12 school designed to include a new auditorium and renovate and add on to the existing middle school to house children PK-6.

In addition, the district’s vision included a stadium and fieldhouse, athletic upgrades, relocating the bus garage, and selective demolition and renovation of the existing high school for a community center.

On the surface, funding the project should seem simple. The state’s Ohio Facilities Construction Commission would cover 39% of the cost to construct the two schools, with the district being responsible for the remaining 61%, paid for with the pipeline money, which comes in installments.

“Then COVID hit,” Murphy said. “Costs are changing almost every month. The construction company is putting together estimates that are way higher than the master plan budget set in 2018 using an OFCC cost set from 2017.”

Murphy said bids coming in to the construction company are now hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than the estimates, due to availability of materials and uncertainty brought on by COVID.

According to Murphy, the estimated cost to include an auditorium has increased to $5 million, which the district does not have the capacity to fund. Yet they believe the inclusion of an auditorium is essential and must be built at the same time as the school to avoid higher costs by adding it later.

“The OFCC has recognized there are districts like Tusky Valley trying to move forward with projects based off of old numbers now affected by a pandemic,” Murphy said.

In response, he said, the OFCC is moving forward with a budget amendment, but the adjusted co-funded budget is capped at 11.4% of the original cost of the project.

“So while the state is essentially willing to contribute another $1 million to their co-funded portion, that brings the local share to more than $3 million,” Murphy said. “And that’s in addition to $600,000 already committed to a larger gymnasium and $500,000 we had to commit to rock blasting because we literally hit bedrock.”

The district is responsible for coming up with roughly $4.5 million to move forward with the project without an auditorium, a figure Murphy said in the letter is a big stretch but manageable.

“What is not manageable,” he said, “is covering the cost of another $5 million to build an auditorium to complete the new 7-12 school.”

Murphy’s letter asked the community to fill out a brief online survey at bit.ly/TVauditorium by Nov. 12. Those expressing interest in helping will receive information on how to donate or be provided with template letters and details on how to contact legislators.

“We will also continue to employ value engineering and other cost-reduction measures to move forward as efficiently as possible, without jeopardizing quality,” Murphy said. “Because when it’s all said and done, we believe the children and students of Tusky Valley, present and future, need and richly deserve the same types of high-quality services and environments most other children in the county already receive.”