The Ohio School Facilities Commission adopted changes to its design manual Thursday, including the decision to publish a separate “educational facility planning guide” to encourage districts to consider their educational vision before thinking about space, materials and other concerns. 

“You should be looking at how you’re going to teach and how you’re going to educate students,” commission planning chief William Ramsey told commissioners while presenting manual updates. 

State Superintendent Richard Ross asked how the commission ensures districts are thinking about future technology needs when building new schools. Melanie Drerup, deputy planning chief, said the commission has four consultants who lead educational planning sessions with school officials to review the direction of education, innovative practices and experiences across the country. 

“We will continue to look at this one an annual cycle and more frequently if needed. We know the world is changing,” Drerup said. 

The commission also adopted changes to the process for officially closing the books on completed school projects, the result of internal efforts to simplify and accelerate an operation that had taken more than four years on average. 

New guidelines should see projects closed within four months of districts’ occupying a new building, said project chief Craig Weise. 

Weise said the commission undertook a Kaizen process-improvement review with internal staff as well as outside representatives including school treasurers, architects and construction managers. The process had been averaging 4.7 years, with some closeouts taking as long as a decade and the fastest-ever closing completed in just over than a year. 

Changes presented Thursday eliminated 40 percent of the steps in the old process and removed 65 percent of the reasons for common delays, and also addressed taking some actions concurrently rather than sequentially. 

Richard Hickman, commission executive director, said the prolonged closings usually tied up funds that could otherwise be redirected to new projects. 

“This really will help us in that regard as well,” Hickman said. 

Jeff Westhoven, facility and program services chief for the commission, gave an update on school security grants, a program created in the FY14-15 biennial budget to install secure doors and emergency radios in Ohio schools.

Westhoven said $10 million of the $12 million allocated for grants has been approved based on applications submitted so far, with 581 districts in 86 Ohio counties served. 

While the commission had planned to open a second round of applications in June, Westhoven said he anticipates all the funding will be committed in the first round. However, as schools have been spending an average of $4,200 on secure doors, compared to the $5,000 grant maximums, funding could be freed up for a second round that could open in September, he said. 

At the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission meeting following the school facilities meeting, Hickman and Director Gary Mohr of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) said they were undertaking a strategic planning effort to assess the construction needs of Ohio’s prison system.

The construction commission also adopted a resolution giving Hickman authority to request issuance or refinancing of bonds for cultural facilities projects, mirroring his existing authority for K-12 and state agency projects.