© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Columbus City Schools hire out-of-state firm to assess facilities to determine improvements

Columbus City Schools District Office
Nick Evans

The Columbus Board of Education voted Tuesday to hire a contractor to assess all of the district's buildings using $500,000 from the recently approved school improvement levy.

The board voted 6-1 to hire project management firm Sightlines LLC from Connecticut to assess the conditions of all district facilities and identify which ones need to be upgraded. This is the first step the district has taken to use funds from the recently approved 7.7 mill school levy.

This is the first time since 2001 the district has had a comprehensive assessment of the conditions of the district's facilities.

Outgoing CCS Board President Jennifer Adair was the lone vote against the plan. She told WOSU she would like to see the district work to hire local companies to support the city's and state's economies.

"I just had some particular questions about that piece of legislation and why we selected a company that was out of state, knowing that there are firms here in Ohio and even some locally that could probably do this," Adair said.

Adair was a major proponent of the levy and said this vote does not conflict with her goal to use the money from the levy to improve district facilities. She said the underlying reason for the legislation is 100% needed.

Under the contract, the firm will assess all occupied district facilities in the initial year. After that first year, the district anticipates that this work will continue on an ongoing basis so that facility conditions are kept current and the capital investment plan is modified and adapted as required, but only one-third of the buildings will be assessed each year after.

Adair said the firm will be able to do the job and cited its national recognition.

"They do have expertise in this. They've done this for other places. So again, it's not about the, you know, a qualification issue. It's more of a contracting philosophy," Adair said.

The board approved its new levy with just over half of Columbus voters voting "yes" in November. The money generated from the levy, $100 million a year, will go towards general improvements and ongoing operations in the district.

Nana Watson, president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, who is a frequent critic of the board, said the district made a mistake hiring this firm. Watson said CCS should have hired locally and criticized the firm's commitment to diversity. The firm said it would hire 20% of its workforce from Black and minority-owned businesses, but Watson said the firm's leadership doesn't reflect diversity.

"The NAACP continues to reiterate that you are not good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This recent decision, or potential award of $506,000, to an out-of-state company highlights our concern ... it's not a win for local diverse firms," Watson said.

Watson has also criticized the board's transparency on major decisions in the past, like the school levy proposal and when the board chose a new superintendent. She questioned whether the board went through a proper process to request proposals from firms.

Adair agreed that she would also like to improve transparency around the process of choosing contractors in the future.

Adair also said she will not be board president next year, but she is remaining on the board. She joked at the meeting that she may get to speak her mind more and bang a shoe on the table instead of a gavel.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.