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Monday, December 3, 2018

Fort Thomas Independent Schools Changes Timeline for Johnson Elementary Construction to Save Costs

Johnson Elementary School renovation project rendering (FTM file)

On Tuesday, December 4, parents and community members are invited to a forum at the Highlands High School Library at 6 p.m. to discuss major changes in the Johnson Elementary School renovation project.

Due to exceptionally high bids, original construction plans for a new Johnson school building, to be built over a three-year period, have been scrapped and replaced by a new plan that will take just 15 months.

The initial timeline would have allowed the students to stay in mobile units on the school property while construction would be done in sections at a time. However, when bids came back over budget by 4.5 million dollars, district staff, the architect and others took another look at the plan.

Back to the drawing board

They discovered a retaining wall that would be built to support the mobile units onsite added a million dollars to the project. Other costly factors included adding exit tunnels for student safety in the construction zone and the uncertainty of supply costs three years down the road.

A significant savings might be had by shortening the timeline and moving the students offsite for the duration of the project. Project developers created a new plan with the hope the changes would bring the bids back in line. The new bids are out and expected to be returned by the end of December.

Funding for the project was approved at the General Session of the legislature last year, but there is a deadline. The project must start by June 30, 2019.

In the new timeline, the project would start in April, immediately after the end of Spring Break, and continue until summer of 2020.

What this means for Johnson students

A biggest change central to the new plan is location of the students during construction. Rather than keep the students onsite at Johnson, they would be moved to mobile units located near the Highlands High School Field House. Ten mobile units will be provided (with two classrooms per unit) and one or two additional units for administrative offices.

All students will move except the preschool students. Due to their age and state guidelines, officials said they plan to provide space for them inside Moyer Elementary.

The new plan presents some benefits and challenges:

  • Students will have access to the Field House and part of the football field at specific times for recreation. In the original plan with students housed on Johnson property, it would not have been possible to provide outdoor recreation.
  • Lunch will be prepared in the Middle School cafeteria and taken to the students.
  • The city of Fort Thomas Police Department and the School Resource Officer will help with traffic concerns.
  • Students who walk or bike will be directed down a pathway near the Middle School garage driveway and across the football field to avoid traffic on Memorial Parkway.
  • Start times for Johnson students will stagger with other schools to help minimize traffic congestion and ensure safety. The Johnson school day will run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
  • Moyer and Woodfill will start at 8 a.m., and Highlands Middle and High schools will start at 8:15 a.m.
  • The staggered times may impact families’ transportation plans and schedules. 

Community forum for concerns and discussion

Families affected by the changes were invited to a community meeting last week and are invited to come to the December forum to ask additional questions and voice concerns about the plan.

Johnson Parents heard last week from Principal Ashley Dikeos and Superintendent Karen Cheser by letter. Moyer Elementary Principal Dawn Laber sent letters to her parents to explain the changes that will be made at her school to accommodate Johnson preschool students.

In her letter inviting parents to the December 4 Forum, Cheser said: "We understand that this will impact your family, and hope that you will not have to make major accommodations for this new schedule starting after spring break…. By making the time changes, we will be able to give our community a wonderful new school, so that all students in Fort Thomas have the wonderful learning environment they deserve."

If all goes well, Johnson students will start the new 2020-21 school year off in a new building.

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