July 13, 2013 Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland school district is about to break ground on three long-awaited high schools, costing a combined $120 million.
The reconstruction of Max S. Hayes Vocational High School, John Marshall High School and the Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA) has been in the works for years. Work is starting on all three and officials hope the new buildings are ready for the 2015-16 school year.
The new Max S. Hayes High School, shown in an artist's rendering as it will appear from W. 65th Street, will be one of three new high school buildings in Cleveland by 2015.
Although the district has renovated other high schools with money from the Issue 14 bond issue voters passed in 2001, it had previously built only one high school with that money, John Adams in 2006.
"To do three high schools at once is major, and speaks to our desire to really push forward," said Pat Zohn, the district's chief operating officer.
An architects rendering of the new John Marshall High School.
Courtesy of the Cleveland school district
The old John Marshall and CSA buildings have already been razed to make way for the new structures. Students have been moved to other buildings until the new ones are done.
The district has also cleared a new site at West 65th Street and Walworth Avenue for the new May Hayes, even having the city vacate parts of Walworth to make room for construction.
In recent months, the district has signed contracts with construction managers to start building. These construction manager at-risk contracts are a type only recently allowed by the state for projects receiving state aid. They give the manager more control over the construction and subcontractors than other agreements, but also set a maximum price that a district will pay for the projects.
An artists rendering of the new Cleveland School of the Arts from above.
Courtesy of the Cleveland school district
The agreements approved by the school board this spring call for Higley Bowen Construction Partners to build the new CSA for $42 million and Max Hayes for $42.5 million. ICON LLC. will build the new John Marshall for $41.7 million.
Gary Sautter, the Cleveland administrator in charge of the construction program, said the district has since negotiated a lower price of $36.5 million for the arts school.
The Friends of the Cleveland School of the Arts are also trying to raise $22 million in donations to build a performance center and art galleries at the school.
The contracted costs for all three high schools do not include design, site preparation and some other costs that push the actual price higher.
Each of the projects has faced obstacles.
While supporters like City Council President Martin Sweeney have pushed for a new John Marshall to help boost the West Side, resident Satinder Puri tried for months to block the project. After gathering signatures on a petition in opposition to demolishing the old building, Puri regularly appeared at school board meetings and other events to complain that the city would lose a historical building and that the new school will not have an indoor track or auditorium like the old one had.
The new Max Hayes will use a site that the school board purchased in 2004 and that was originally intended for a totally new school - -not a replacement for an existing one. The site also had some environmental issues that have added more costs.
The district will close the current Max Hayes building on Detroit Avenue when the new one opens, though the New Tech West high school located in the that building will remain in its annex unless a new location is found, Sautter said.
Costs for rebuilding CSA have come under scrutiny from James Darr, administrator of the Bond Accountability Commission, a panel created to be a watchdog for Issue 14 spending.
Darr has questioned why the costs per square foot for that school are much higher than those for John Marshall and Max Hayes. Just how much higher isn't clear since the size and cost of the CSA plans have been adjusted. Darr continues to press the district for better detail of the costs and project plans.
He and others have also struggled to compare costs for the new CSA to the performing arts school that opened in Cincinnati in 2006. That school cost about $58 million, according to state officials. Those costs include performance areas, unlike here in Cleveland where the performance center will be built separately and with donations.
Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of the Cleveland district, told the school board recently that specialized costs for an arts school drove costs higher, including dance floors, a recording studio, a dark room for photography, theaters and accoustical treatments for walls.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which oversees all school construction projects that receive state aid, recently increased the amount of money the state will contribute to CSA to help cover those costs.
Rick Savors, spokesman for the facilities commission, said his board considered CSA's high costs reasonable or it would not have approved them.
It had initially agreed to pay its two-thirds share of the original $25 million estimate of construction costs - costs based on building a traditional high school. When extra costs for an arts school drove the price to the $35 million range, the state agreed to contribute more than $3 million more to the project.