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Building plans considered for aging schools

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The school board is taking steps to deal with what it characterizes as aging infrastructure in Yellow Springs’ two school buildings: Mills Lawn Elementary and McKinney Middle School/Yellow Springs High School. New facilities are part of the district’s 2020 plan, and district superintendent Mario Basora cited at the August school board meeting the current buildings’ woes: narrow hallways and a leaking roof, as well as the buildings’ limitations as settings for project-based learning (PBL) activities, as ideally there would be more shared and open spaces for collaboration. These problems are reasons to consider constructing new buildings or rehabilitating the existing structures, according to Basora at the August meeting.

To that end, the district announced in August its intention to hire an architectural firm to provide an assessment of the existing facilities and then an overview of the district’s options. Generally, the options would be to rehab the current buildings, build new facilities or leave the buildings as they are.

Once the firm has done the assessment and drafted a list of options, the firm will work with the district to present a potential building project to the public for feedback through a series of community forums and opinion polls. If there is enough interest in the project, the district would fund construction through a levy passed by voters. In addition to the levy, Basora estimated that the state would likely cover around 13 percent of the bill. While the timeline for the project is still under review, the board decided at a work session last week to move forward next month with soliciting qualifications from firms interested in the project.

According to Basora last week, hiring a firm to conduct a feasibility study and then solicit community feedback is a common way to start the process of updating or building new facilities. The community engagement process would last about a year and would cost the district around $20,000, Basora said, the cost of similar projects undertaken by other districts. Basora said at the September board meeting that he was aiming to get the issue on the November 2017 ballot. This would entail hiring a firm by this November or December, and that the district would “probably know by May where the district is going to go” with regards to the kind of construction that would take place, he said. Last week’s work session aimed to get what Basora said was a “firm, strong, clear board position” regarding the project’s timing.

At that work session, Treasurer Dawn Bennett and Board Member Steve Conn expressed concerns about the proposed schedule. Bennett pointed out that the district would have to know locations, timelines and such considerations as new bus routes when presenting the project to the public. Integrating features such as a community kitchen and performance space, facilities that could be used by the public, would take planning and time as well, she said.

Conn noted that the new schools project would be another major project on top those the district is currently undertaking, such as the fundraising work headed by Development Director Dawn Boyer, the schools’ new curriculum and the expansion of the district’s Deeper Learning Center.

Bennett also pointed out that a renewal levy will be on the November 2017 ballot, and voters may be confused or wary of two school levies in the same election. Bennett suggested planning instead to get the building levy on the ballot in May 2018, if in fact the district moves ahead with new buildings.

“We should make sure the current projects are up and running,” Bennett said. “We’ll be in a different position a year from now,” and will be better able to focus on the new school issue.

While Basora argued that “there won’t be a magical time where this is any easier for us” and that there are “community members who wanted new schools done yesterday,” he agreed that tackling the current projects first makes sense, and said he was comfortable with the possible date of May 2018.

Basora said that once firms submit their qualifications, the board will pick the three best candidates for further consideration; these firms will be “formally interviewed” at a public meeting this fall, and then the board will vote on the firm in an executive session. According to discussion at last week’s work session, the board is planning to have a firm in place by December. The feasibility study and the community engagement process would likely start in the spring.

In other Sept. 8 school board business:

• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh said that teachers in all grade levels have hosted meetings in which they have been able to introduce themselves to parents and talk to them about the curriculum, PBL and student expectations.

Housh also noted that there are Chrome books in Mills Lawn classrooms. The Chrome books are used for test preparation for the school’s Star assessments, and math and reading websites. Housh said they have a lifetime of 3–5 years, which is “good for what [the school] pays for them.”

• McKinney Middle School and YSHS Principal Tim Krier reported that 2016–17 student enrollment is substantially higher than that of last year. As of Aug. 2 of this year, MMS and YSHS had a combined total of 389 students, versus 342 at the end of the last school year. Grades 7 and 11 had an increase of 16 students each, with 67 and 74 students enrolled, respectively, while grade 12 had 20 more students than last year, with 62 seniors scheduled to graduate in 2017. Grade 9 lost 10 students and grade 10 lost two students, beginning the year with 56 and 72 students respectively.

“Pretty much every grade is full,” Krier said.

• Students and staff from YSHS will provide two days of professional development to 25 students and five teachers from Perry Local and Wickliffe Schools, two school districts in northeastern Ohio. Yellow Springs staff will travel to these schools to introduce PBL and instruct teachers on how to support student PBL teams. Around 10 students from Yellow Springs will help lead the workshops and can potentially earn a half  credit for their efforts.

• Board members are discussing the possibility of the district buying one to two new vans to transport students and staff to events such as PBL teaching opportunities or athletic events that don’t warrant taking an entire bus. The district is currently using busses as transportation. Board members agreed it would be more economical and ecological to use smaller vehicles for smaller numbers of students.

• Anne Erickson was officially sworn in as a school board member at the Sept. 8 meeting. Erickson replaced previous board member Evan Scott, who left the position in June. Erickson previously served on the school board from 2006–2009. Erickson was selected from a pool of seven applicants, and will serve on the board until the next election in 2017.

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