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Yellow Springs school board— Next step on facilities update

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Build new buildings? Renovate existing structures? Maintain the current facilities?

These are some of the options that Yellow Springs school board members — and soon Yellow Springs residents — will be considering as the board weighs options for dealing with aging infrastructure and meeting the district’s evolving instructional needs.

Board members met at a working session last Thursday, Jan. 26, to hear presentations from three area architectural firms. The firms were being asked to describe their approach to a community engagement process, which will begin this spring and run at least through the end of 2017, according to District Superintendent Mario Basora in an interview this week.

“We want public input from the inception,” Basora said.

As a result of last week’s presentations, the board has narrowed the firms down to two possibilities, and will potentially make a final selection next week. The two firms being considered are Ruetschle Architects of Dayton and SHP, a larger firm based in Cincinnati. Both firms have experience with K–12 school construction and related community engagement initiatives.

Though the firms haven’t yet submitted budgets for the board’s consideration, Basora said the board anticipates spending about $60,000 on the community engagement portion of the much larger facilities update project.

The board anticipates working with the chosen firm to hold five or six public meetings this spring and next fall to discuss various options facing the schools. Basora said the board hopes both to gauge the level of public support for a potential facilities update and to get local residents’ feedback on specific design approaches for new or rehabbed buildings.

“We’re hoping to get really strong engagement from the community on this,” Basora said.

If there appears to be strong public support for proceeding with the construction of new school buildings, the school board would place a levy on the ballot, most likely in the spring of 2018, according to Basora. At that time, there would be a new process for selecting a company to do the construction work. The firm leading the community engagement process would not necessarily be the firm to undertake construction.

The board first began publicly discussing facilities updates this past fall. The topic is addressed in the school district’s 2020 strategic plan, developed in 2011. Infrastructure is one of six priority items in that plan, which calls for the establishment of “criteria and plans for the construction of new or retrofitted school buildings.”

According to School Board President Aïda Merhemic this week, the board is turning its attention to the facilities needs of the district after several years of focusing on implementing project-based learning, or PBL, as the new curricular approach in Yellow Springs schools. 

“Curriculum change-over has been our focus, and now we’re looking at our facilities needs,” she said.

According to Basora, there are a number of reasons why facilities are rising to the top of the board’s agenda now. The existing facilities, built between 50 and 60 years ago, are aging and presenting a host of major and minor repair issues. The district is also looking to stay competitive with other area schools, the majority of which have built new school buildings in the past 10 years, according to Basora. And finally, he said, the current facilities don’t adequately fit the evolving curricular and instructional needs of the district, now that Yellow Springs schools have moved to PBL. Specifically, larger hallways, flexible classroom spaces and more common spaces for collaborative work are needed, he explained.

“Our buildings were designed for an industrial model of learning,” he said. “We’ve made significant pedagogical changes, and we’re trying to get our buildings to catch up.”

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