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Shaker Heights Schools settles on budget for Fernway Elementary renovation

November 16, 2018

Shaker Heights Schools settles on budget for Fernway Elementary renovation

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- The Shaker Heights Board of Education recommended on Wednesday night (Nov. 14) that the school district allocate an additional $3 million toward the renovation of the fire-damaged Fernway Elementary School.

The board anticipates an insurance reimbursement of around $14.6 million. Architects, a resident focus group and Fernway Principal Christopher Hayward will be among those who now provide input on how the approximately $17.6 million will be used.

More than 200 people attended Wednesday’s board meeting, nearly packing the school’s smaller cafeteria, as the Fernway renovation and other matters were on the agenda.

“We’re delighted, and we’re so grateful for the Fernway community’s work on this,” Board President Jeffrey Isaacs said afterward. “Many folks were here, and a lot of them are construction folks and lawyers and insurance experts.

“They really provided input and drove our thinking on this. I’m very excited it’s moving forward,” he said.

The district has been working with Van Aukens Akins Architects and the Gilbane Building Company in developing Fernway renovation plans. The school building was severely damaged in a July 10 fire that was ruled by city firefighters as accidental.

The board, architects and builders hope to have Fernway ready for sometime within the early weeks of 2020. In the meantime, some 300 students who would now be at Fernway are attending classes at three other elementaries in the district.

Before the board announced its consensus approval of the funding, several residents spoke during the public comments portion -- all in favor of a significant renovation. They included Fernway parents, two second-grade classmates and a youngster who introduced herself as an “almost 10-year old” as the crowd affectionately chuckled.

Considered besides the $3 million expenditure choice were options of $2 million, $4 million and $5 million. An image projected onto a large screen listed what improvements might be made with each funding option.

Expenses can exceed or not reach projections in such renovations. Executive Director of Public Relations and Communications Scott Stephens said the total budget and anticipated improvements are not “etched in stone,” and also noted the possibility of some additional funding from grants, the city and the Shaker Schools Foundation.

Among the improvements and additions that will be strongly considered are classrooms enlargement; special needs classrooms; kindergarten and music classrooms; a new playground; a new, partial second floor; a design lab; an elevator; restrooms relocation; and basic classroom and office furniture.

“We’re working with a construction team from Gilbane, and we’re using a ‘construction manager at risk’ model, which means we name an overall budget number and they then deliver the scope (of renovations) within that,” Isaacs said.

“So now the work has begun to identify exactly what that scope will be. They needed a number to work from. It’s a little bit safer for us in terms of delivering the project on time, and the budget,” he said.

Many parents had hoped for the maximum budget, but understood the limitations. Many cheered when the $3 million option was announced.

“We, of course, always want the very best,” said the mother of one student, “but this sounds like a sensible approach that was thought out pretty well.”

The exterior brick structure of the building -- which dates back to the 1920s -- is basically sound, and plans are to keep the venerable facade essentially  as it is.

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