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04/06/2012

ODNR could eventually be included in merger of Ohio School Facilities Commission and State Architect

Merger appears on track for approval

Unlike some more controversial proposals in Governor John Kasich's ambitious "Mid-biennium Review" legislation, the planned merger of the Ohio School Facilities Commission and the Office of the State Architect appears on track for legislative approval.

At a March 21 hearing of the Ohio House of Representatives' State Government and Elections Committee, Department of Administrative Services Director Robert Blair said the merger would bring most of state government vertical construction projects under a single entity that would have the authority to perform or administer all state facility construction, including schools.

The new entity, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), would have three-members, the director of the Office of Budget & Management, the director of the Department of Administrative Services and a third member appointed by the governor.

Richard Hickman, executive director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, told the committee that, “As a state, we can deliver capital projects even more efficiently and effectively by consolidating the tremendous construction experience and expertise that resides in both the State Architect’s Office and the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

"This proposal will allow the state to take full advantage of our collective knowledge of construction to deliver the best facilities that we can to all public owners in a consistent and streamlined manner,” he said.

The legislation that contains the merger proposal (HB 487) also includes a provision that requires the OFCC and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to cooperate in a study "to determine which operation functions, if any, of the DNR Division of Engineering should be integrated and consolidated into the OFCC."

A major factor driving the merger proposal is the diminished role of the Office of the State Architect as the overseer of state capital construction projects.

Over the years, the Ohio General Assembly has given state agencies and universities more and more authority to administer their own capital projects, which has made it harder for the OSA to financially justify its existence.

Once the OSA staff is integrated into the new OFCC, the state expects to retain fewer construction managers to oversee the construction of school projects funded through the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which will continue in existence.

Much of this project management work is expected to be brought in house and assigned to the new OFCC staff that is created by the merger of the school facilities commission staff and OSA employees.

Because HB 487 is so wide-ranging, including proposals for things ranging from increased taxes on banks to stricter rules on oil and gas drilling to eliminating regulatory burdens on local governments, it is likely the bill will be split into as many as a dozen separate pieces of legislation.

Whether legislation containing the proposed merger of OSFC and OSA can be enacted prior to the legislature's summer recess, which begins in June, remains to be seen.

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