Public-Private Partnerships Lead to Schools Improvements

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What started as an underfunded design and dream for a campus in Rocky River City School District, transformed into a $400,000 project and a new paradigm for the community and district to collaborate for growth.

Following the successful passage of a bond issue in 2010, RRCSD embarked on several distinct construction projects to improve their facilities. Initially the construction goals were designed to make the schools warm, safe and dry; however, with the development of several public-private partnership initiatives, the RRCSD was also able to focus on improving other key areas of the school district.  As a result, buildings were upgraded, public outdoor space was created and several public-private partnerships were initiated.  

When construction began in 2010, President of MBI Products Company, RRHS alumnus and Rocky River Resident Christopher Kysela, proposed that his company donate all of the acoustical panels needed for the project.  This generous donation freed up enough money for the Board of Education to focus their resources on other areas of need throughout the district and also opened up the the opportunity for more public-private partnerships.

As a result of the initial donation, when further areas of need arose, the Board of Education did not attempt to fund the projects entirely with the bond money, but rather looked to community leaders to find ways to fund them.

The construction design team of administrators and architects created the plans for renovations at the high school that would transform the interior into a college-like atmosphere with commons areas, collaborative spaces, technology, and connectedness throughout. Unfortunately, the plans far exceed the proposed budget. 

Rather than seek additional tax dollars or settle for mediocre landscaping that fit within the project budget but did not meet the ideal landscaping goal, community leaders were approached by the Board of Education and another partnership began.

The Rocky River Campus Foundation, a 501C(3) nonprofit organization, was formed by community leaders, business owners and members of the Board of Education. The Foundation effectively organized, developed a mission, discussed plans and sought fiscal partnerships to fund the landscaping needs of the RRCSD.  The newly-formed nonprofit also spent time working with legal counsel to assure that the projects, donations, and end results would be completed as planned.

Leadership among the Rocky River Campus Foundation was established by building on the professional business expertise of the group and the partnership itself is based on a cooperative participation model between the Rocky River City School District and public businesses and citizens.  Once organized, the Rocky River Campus Foundation leadership met with the Board of Education and school administrators to determine the size and scope of the project.

With an estimated budget of $400,000, the project was divided into distinct components – the arts and sciences courtyard, the smokestack courtyard, the student entrance, and the front entrance.  Each component of the campus was given a cost estimate and a thorough list of how donors could contribute and become a part of a legacy.

While the Rocky River Campus Foundation was working hard to secure funds for the project, the Board of Education was also hard at work leveraging $26,000 in funds and construction credit to help the Foundation start their work.  With this commitment from both the business community and the Board of Education, a partnership evolved that helped turn the Rocky River High School into a true campus.  As such, the community’s investment in the schools through these public-private partnerships has forever changed the district’s approach to alternative revenue sources.  Already, several public-private partnerships are being discussed that include the City and related community resources.    

Throughout the process, the Rocky River City School District learned several lessons that show that everyone can benefit from successful public-private partnerships.

  • Community leaders are gracious and willing to further invest in our community schools.  
  • The Board of Education needs to be open-minded and flexible to help make the partnership work.
  • In addition to community members, alumni are willing to reinvest in their alma mater if you reach out to them.  
  • Communication must be thorough and frequent within the public-private partnership.  Share public-private partnership details with the community.
  • Announce the public-private partnership at the start, highlight the completion of project milestones, and celebrate the conclusion of the project(s) with stakeholders and residents.

What once started as an underfunded design and dream for a true campus transformed into a $400,000 landscape project due to the establishment of a solid public-private partnership and a commitment of the community for their schools.  Rocky River Board of Education member Jay Milano stated, “It had always been our hope to turn the High School grounds into a true campus, a place where our faculty, students, and the community could gather and reflect.  Thanks to the work of the Campus Foundation, that hope is now a reality.”  

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