Richard Hickman Jr. led his first meeting of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) in his second tour as director Thursday with an update on the repeal of “responsible bidder” guidelines for school district construction, a remnant of the Strickland administration.

“I believe we are in very good shape in going forward with the requirements with Resolution 11-16,” he said, addressing OSFC’s latest position on project labor agreements (PLA) in school construction. The resolution, a product of the reconfigured commission under Gov. John Kasich, generally prohibits PLAs except when a district requests, and OSFC agrees to, a waiver from non-union guidelines.

Hickman said projects advertised for PLA bids before the Feb. 24 date of the resolution will proceed with whatever union agreements that may be adopted by local school boards. School projects opened for bidding after the effective date will generally ban use of PLAs.

That equation is complicated, however, by the serial nature of construction projects, he said, in which a given building or element of construction is bid at one point, and another segment of the project is bid at a later time.

“In many respects it’s a legal review,” the director said in response to a question from ex officio commission member Rep. Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville). 

Hickman said the status of a given PLA project, and the progress of construction within that project, will be evaluated by the commission on a case-by-case basis. “… There may be legal consequences to what we do.”

Circleville City School District is the one district to date that has asked to withdraw its PLA, Hickman said, while four districts – Akron Public Schools and Springfield Local School District in Summit County, Euclid City Schools in Cuyahoga County, and Switzerland of Ohio Local Schools in Monroe County — have requested the option of union contracts and a waiver from Resolution 11-16.

Outside the meeting, Hickman said that at this point it is unclear how the commission would distinguish between state funds and district matching funds in granting a waiver from the non-union policy.

“My sense is that it would be very difficult to determine precisely on a contract-by-contract basis what that incremental cost might be,” he told Hannah News.

At least where the Ohio School for the Deaf/School for the Blind projects are concerned, Hickman told commission members that OSFC is required to approve prevailing wage agreements, to the extent both are technically state agencies and therefore state construction projects.

“We believe we’re on schedule, and we believe we are going to get those projects within the capital appropriation,” he said.

The director also updated the commission on Sen. Tom Patton’s (R-Strongsville) question at the previous OSFC meeting about the feasibility of bidding school furnishings in the same way school facilities are bid. (See The Hannah Report, 2/24/11.)

“It’s a pretty costly situation we were asked to deal with,” Hickman said, noting the $30-40 million in annual costs to the state for school furnishings. He said OSFC is working with the state purchasing office on a standardized bid process in lieu of existing cost schedules for furniture purchasing, and that it could take some time to get this completed.

State budget director and commission chair Tim Keen asked Hickman about the status of the old Libbey High School building in Toledo, where members of the community are trying to preserve the building as a historical landmark. A representative of the group testified at February’s meeting of OSFC.

Hickman said his office had recommended three options to the Toledo Board of Education, one being to continue abatement and demolition of the site and another to delay further action on the building until either this October or next spring. 

He said the school board had met only this morning and decided to proceed with its current schedule for an auction in April or May and — that failing — abatement bids by June and demolition bids by August. Based on that calendar, Hickman said, demolition of Libbey High School would be completed by January.

Hickman also advised commission members that he will be updating the commission calendar on district groundbreakings for each OSFC meeting and encouraged them to consider when they might attend ceremonies.