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New Facilities Chief Foresees Continued High Demand for School Construction Aid

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Hannah News
As the new head of Ohio's construction oversight agency, Cheryl Lyman has her eye on how data analytics can help with its mission, and she faces the challenge of increased demand for help from local schools amid strong competition for the talents of the construction workforce.

In an interview with Hannah News, Lyman said she jumped at the chance to lead the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission because of the potential to make a difference on a statewide level and the ability to assess the progress of two reforms she'd worked on years ago -- construction procurement reform and the establishment of the agency itself, which first complemented and later subsumed her previous employer, the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Lyman was chief of support services during a previous stint with the commission, and her resume includes roles in the nonprofit world, at Otterbein University and Ohio State University, and work at state agencies including the Office of Budget and Management, Ohio Department of Commerce, Ohio Department of Administrative Services and the former Ohio Department of Development. The commission announced her hiring as executive director in September as successor to David Williamson. Jon Walden, chief counsel to the commission, served as interim director.

Lawmakers approved supplemental funding this year for the commission to finance more school district projects because a higher than expected number secured their local shares of expenses. Lyman said she expects the surge in local school districts ready to move forward with commission-funded projects to continue.

"From what we're hearing from the K-12 community, there is still a lot of demand … it's definitely something that we've got in mind in terms of trying to meet the projects forecast that we're seeing."

The commission and the state and local agencies it works with also face a challenge commonly expressed by businesses -- workforce.

"This economic climate is very challenging for both our K-12 partners and our agency partners," Lyman said. "It's the double-edged sword of a great economy, but there are some cost implications in trying to get projects done. There's cost implications and there's schedule implications.

"I can't say enough how much we need skilled tradespeople. … When you've got a Google and an Amazon, for example, in Franklin County, we're competing with those kinds of entities for the electricians and the plumbers we need on our projects."

Lyman said the commission is reaching out to the construction industry for companies' insights on how data analytics can play a role in their work. "Big data is everywhere," she said. She'll also be looking for ways to refine the construction procurement reforms instituted in 2012, which have almost entirely displaced the prior method of multiple prime contracting. (See The Hannah Report, 9/11/19.)

As advances in technology change the nature of education, Lyman said she's confident the commission's local school projects are adaptable for the future.

"I was very pleased when I most recently reviewed the school design manual because so much of it is focused on educational delivery, and how a district looks at its community, its model for education delivery, and how the facilities can help support that," she said.

Facilities built today are designed with more open and flexible space.

"We used to think of classrooms, but now the whole building can be a classroom, including the exterior," Lyman said.

Environmental sustainability is also a major focus of the school projects, with almost 350 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified (LEED) school buildings finished to-date. Those projects bring lower utility costs, less waste production during construction and better air quality for the students and teachers. "That piece is hard to quantify, but it is very much an opportunity for districts to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff," she said.

Broadening the mission of the old school facilities agency to absorb the State Architect's Office and the former Cultural Facilities Commission as well as overseeing construction projects at colleges and universities, parks, prisons and other state agency sites has made the state a better business partner for construction firms, Lyman said.

"There's a consistency and level playing field. … If you're a contractor and you're bidding on a project, if you're going in northwest Ohio, the rules are the same as if you're in southeast Ohio," she said.

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