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Potential Mills Lawn School facilities site discussed

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Responding to public feedback following the recent school facilities forum, District Superintendent Mario Basora stated at last week’s school board meeting that “no decision has yet been made” regarding moving forward with new school facilities, as “all plans are transparently still under discussion.” The choice about which facilities plan to use — or if new facilities will be pursued at all — will be made by the school board in December, Basora said, with hopes of getting a levy to fund the initiative on the ballot in May.

Basora said he had received several letters from community members who were concerned that the district had already made a choice to move forward with the project. This is not the case, Basora said, as the board aims to make a decision about which building proposal to use in December, and will be relying on public sentiment to determine whether or not to pursue the project in the first place.

Also at last week’s school board meeting, architect Mike Ruetschle gave a slightly amended version of the presentation he gave at the most recent public forum. He presented anew the existing designs for combined facilities on either school property, as well as two additional prospective designs for a K–12 building on the Mills Lawn property, which reflect potential reconfigurations in building locations on the site. The district has hosted two public forums designed to keep the public updated about the process, and to gauge feedback on different aspects of the facilities project. District officials have also hosted meetings with invited community members and business leaders to explore the facilities question.

According to Ruetschle, feedback from teachers, staff and community members indicated an interest in a combined K–12 facility on the current Mills Lawn property. Villager comments expressed at the two facilities forums include an interest in having all students in one building, he said, but also concerns about congestion and lack of parking. Those concerns will be addressed as planning continues, he said.

So far, public and district consensus is “leaning toward a K-12 building at the Mills Lawn site,” Ruetschle said, “but [the district] needs to demonstrate feasibility.”

Based on preliminary estimates by the Ohio Facilities Commission, Ruetschle said it would take approximately $25 million to renovate the buildings, though details on the breakdown of that work are not yet available. According to the plans presented at the board meeting, construction of new buildings is estimated at approximately $32 million. The project would be funded by local property taxes, and is projected to cost taxpayers between $331 and $461 for every $100,000 of property value, according to figures furnished by Ruetschle. The bond would be for 35 years.

Basora and the board members said at the meeting that they welcome public feedback and encourage direct communication, and that attending the community forums is the best way to communicate with the district about the question of new facilities. The next two forums are scheduled for the fall, with the first likely taking place in September, Basora said. (There will also be three more informal “Community Pulse Discussions” over the summer. See Basora’s letter on page 4 for details.)

In other school board business:
• Yellow Springs High School was once again named by US News and World Report as one of the “Best High Schools” in Ohio. According to YSHS principal Tim Krier, the school was recently voted number one in Greene County, number two in the Miami Valley (exchanging the top seat with rival Oakwood) and number 25 in Ohio. The school’s high marks place it in the top three percent of high schools in the country. YSHS has been a top school on the US News list for four of the last five years.

The rankings measure the “college readiness” of a school’s students by analyzing factors such as performance on standardized tests, proficiency in reading and math as determined by these tests, and advanced placement test data. A school has to graduate more than 68 percent of its students to be considered for the ranking (YSHS has a 100 percent graduation rate), and the ranking also takes into consideration the number of minority and economically disadvantaged students enrolled in the school, and how well these students do in the areas mentioned above.

The presence of other schools on the list using PBL “generally supports our notion that PBL and deeper learning do not come at the expense of test scores and student learning,” Krier wrote in a handout.

The school district did not submit any data to the publication to be considered for the ranking. The US News and World Report develops the list based on publically available data about the district taken from previous school years.

• Students from Sarah Amin’s sixth grade class gave a presentation to the board outlining their winning design for an outdoor education area on the grounds of Mills Lawn Elementary. Norah Fultz, Josephine Zinger and Chedin Manley represented team Intricate Design, and they were tasked with using money from a recent $13,699 Toolbox for Education grant from Lowe’s to redesign tennis courts and renovate the outdoor space.

Team Intricate Design also included members Nick Morris, Dylon Mapes, Phillip Kintner, Quinn Vanmeter, Daniella Bieri, Greenlee Cordell, Erin Davis and Izzy Taylor. The expert panel evaluating the designs included Craig Carter, Chasity Miller, Dawn Boyer, Matt Housh, Lowe’s representative Jason Neace and Mike Ruetschle.

The team’s representatives explained that their design revolved around three principles: that the recreation area is accessible to all students, that it is aesthetically pleasing and that it offers educational opportunities. Fultz explained that these principles guided every stage of the project, from researching potential playground equipment to critiquing the designs that fellow groups developed.

Team Intricate Design’s winning design included painted games areas, benches and tables, a stage and an area for a garden. There are also workspaces that can be used for a variety of outdoor learning projects. A scale diagram of the project was passed around the boardroom.

The project cost approximately $9,700, and the students presented the board with a spreadsheet detailing the various expenses. Amin explained that while $3,300 of the grant was set aside for specific items, the rest of the recreation area was left up to students to plan and design. Zinger noted that one of the hardest parts of the project was downsizing ideas once they realized how much items cost.

“This is an exciting project and one we hope will create opportunities for enhanced science and nature study on our school grounds,” wrote Mills Lawn principal Matt Housh in an update available at the meeting. “We also look forward to remediation of an area on our school ground that is past due for attention.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony on the new outdoor education area is scheduled for Friday, May 19, at 9:30 a.m. After the brief ceremony, volunteers from Lowe’s and the community will begin working with the students to implement the winning design.

• A recent bike to school event at Mills Lawn resulted in over 70 percent of the school’s students biking or walking to school, Housh reported.

• Special services coordinator Donna First spoke about sixth-grade students in Chastity Miller’s class who recently put together a video in which students and teachers talk about transitioning to middle school. The sixth graders will graduate on May 23, and will be honored with a clap-out on May 26, in which the sixth-graders will be sent off by their fellow students.

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