Schools facilities planning— District hones in on 4 options
- Published: February 18, 2021
The effort to develop a master plan for addressing identified building needs in Yellow Springs schools is moving along quickly, with four project scenarios emerging as the district’s leading options.
Two advisory committees — one focused on the district’s educational vision and one exploring a course of action concerning local school facilities — began meeting online in late January; and the first of three planned public community forums was scheduled Thursday evening, Feb. 18.
The goal of the district superintendent and school board is to approve a facilities master plan by April or May and put a levy before voters in November, estimating a $30 million minimum cost for the project. The district has contracted with Cincinnati-based SHP Leading Design as the architectural firm facilitating the master planning process.
While district leaders continue to stress that they have made no decisions about a possible plan, the number of options they are considering has become more defined, hinging on whether they choose to follow the recommendations of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
At issue is a potential 26% reimbursement of local project costs from the state agency if its guidelines are met. Funding factors include the district’s enrollment numbers and the projected cost of renovation compared to new construction.
OPTIONS UNDER REVIEW
Independent of OFCC
• Keep both buildings.
— Address only current critical issues
— Or undertake major renovations.
Working with OFCC
• K–12 renovation with demolition and addition at MS/HS campus.
— Demolish three-story building.
— Major addition.
• K–12 renovation and addition at MS/HS campus.
• Minor addition.
• Construct new K–12 facility at MS/HS campus.
From the ysforward.com website.
During the most recent advisory group meeting Tuesday, Feb. 9, SHP representatives, who conducted the meeting, laid out four project scenarios currently under consideration.
Three of the four options involve working with the OFCC, and each of those three feature a transition to a K–12 facility at the current McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School campus on East Enon Road.
If any of these three scenarios is chosen, Mills Lawn Elementary School, located on nearly five acres in the middle of town, likely would be torn down, according to Superintendent Terri Holden. Last week she said district leaders have no plans at present for the property.
“I want to reiterate that we are not planning on selling or developing any site at this time,” she said during the most recent school board meeting Thursday, Feb. 11. “That discussion and decision-making process will come up as a part of our facilities master planning,” she added.
Of the four options currently being explored:
• “Option 1” features a combination of renovation and construction and includes the demolition of the three-story portion of the current high school along with the construction of a “major addition” to complete a K–12 facility.
According to the OFCC, the price tag for this option would be just under $30 million, with over $500,000 of it falling outside the co-funding guidelines, and consequently the district’s full responsibility.
• “Option 2” involves renovation of the current East Enon Road campus with a “minor addition” for K–12 purposes.
The OFCC sets the cost of this option at nearly $30.1 million, with more than $132,000 being the district’s full -responsibility.
• “Option 3” would see the construction of an all new K–12 campus at the East Enon Road site.
The cost, according to the OFCC, would top $33.3 million, all of it qualifying for the 74%–26% split.
A fourth option, labeled “Option 0” in SHP’s presentation, would see the district move forward independently of the OFCC and involve renovation of the current buildings at their present locations. It closely matches the findings of the Facilities Task Force that met through most of 2019.
If this route is chosen, a further decision would be made whether to pursue major renovations in the buildings or address “only current critical issues,” according to SHP.
An additional option in consideration by the district as well, though not listed in the SHP documents, is construction of a K–12 facility on a parcel of land that is currently part of the Antioch College campus. Holden said last week that discussions are ongoing about buying the property, which is located on the south side of Antioch’s campus in the area known as the “golf course.”
According to local resident Patrick Lake, who is facilitating discussions concerning the development of an “Education Corridor” or “Education District” on the campus on behalf of the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, Antioch has indicated a willingness to sell the parcel to the school district. An asking price has not been released.
Holden has told the YSDC, on which she serves as an ex-officio member, that the district isn’t dropping out of the discussions, which began over a year ago, but district leaders feel the need to move forward more quickly than the proposed collaboration with Antioch will likely allow.
Regarding the future of the collaboration, Holden last week affirmed “there are no decisions there either.”
“The site discussion is part of our facilities master planning process,” she said of the Antioch conversations during the school board meeting, urging community members to let the master planning process unfold.
“Those that say we have made any type of facility decision — be it building renovations or replacements, or a particular site location — quite simply, are conveying inaccurate information,” Holden said.
Enrollment projections for the district are a significant factor in the focus on transitioning to a K–12 facility or campus, as the OFCC recommends maintaining or constructing a single building or campus when total enrollment is less than 1,500 students, and the agency does not provide funds for any building with fewer than 350 students.
Last year’s total Yellow Springs enrollment was 699, including 184 open enrollment students, less than half of the OFCC’s recommended total, according to district records. This school year’s total, as counted in the fall, is smaller, at 685, with 192 students attending through open enrollment. The 2020–21 breakdown by building shows 308 at Mills Lawn and 377 at the middle/high school.
While Holden has said she believes this year’s decline is a consequence of the pandemic, the OFCC’s enrollment projections — provided in December 2020 by the management consulting firm Future Think Inc. — anticipate a continuing gradual drop, with an anticipated 671 total in the 2025–26 school year and 628 in 2030–31, 10 years from now.
Relatedly, the two advisory groups — the Educational Visioning Team, or EVT, and the Community Advisory Team, or CAT — have been exploring the implications of implementing a K–12 model.
Both groups include teachers, administrators, staff, students, parents and community members who were invited by the superintendent to participate based on recommendations by staff and board members, according to Holden. She said she tried to assemble a diverse variety of perspectives.
Given tasks that include exploring educational models, defining curriculum goals and imagining the spaces needed to achieve those goals, the EVT is comprised largely of educators. According to a list from the district, members include: Kevin Matteson, Katherine Main, Chandra Jones-Graham, Cynthia Sieck, Amy Bailey, Steve Conn, Naomi Bongorno, Maria Booth, Kelley Oberg, Valerie Blackwell-Truitt, Brandon Lowry, John Gudgel, Kevin Lydy, John Day, Katherine Lohmeyer, Jo Frannye Reichert, Ryan Montross, Jeananne Turner-Smith, Jennifer Scavone, Tamara Morrison, Cameron Dickens, Cameron McCoy, Chris Sidner and Shannon Morano.
The Community Advisory Team will be considering the findings of the Educational Envisioning Group, the economic impacts of different options and feedback from the public forums. A list from the district includes: Dhyana Crockett, Kineta Sanford, Paul Herzog, Tracy Hoagland-Clark, David Diamond, Sarah Amin, Tami Parker, Eli Hurwitz, Jason Bailey, Eric Oberg, Ari Greenwald, Heidi Hoover, Mikasa Simms, Gary Zaremsky, Florence Randolph, Brian Mayer, Parker Buckley, Lisa Kreeger, Abigail Cobb, Todd Leventhal, Josué Salmerón, Jennifer Fritsch, Dawn Miller, Donna Silvert, Liz Stotler Robertson, Jason Harris, Naomi Hyatt, Phil Renfro, Steve McQueen, Craig Carter, Donna First, Thomas Young, Jack Hatert and Michelle Person.
The groups’ meetings are not advertised or open to the public, but SHP’s PowerPoint presentations that include the meeting agenda and some summaries of previous meeting discussions are posted on the master planning website, ysforward.com. The district have agreed to a request from the News to attend some of the online meetings, beginning with the most recent EVT Zoom call, Feb. 9.
A total of 36 people — most members of the EVT, along with the building principals, who serve on the CAT; a handful of students; the superintendent; the district office executive assistant; and representatives of SHP — were present for the Feb. 9 SHP-led online meeting.
The agenda included putting participants into small breakout groups to identify “beneficial interactions” between ages that a single building “should encourage” and “detrimental interactions” that a building “should discourage.”
The general response to the consideration of a single facility or campus seemed positive. And the leading benefit cited was the possibilities for greater collaboration, between staff and students.
Students in particular said they valued opportunities to connect with both older and younger youths.
Payton Horton, an eighth grader, pointed to multi-age efforts at Mills Lawn, including the all-school musical and the mentorship that takes place in “buddy classes,” where an older and younger class pair up, as having a positive affect on her during her time at the elementary school.
Potential problems involving behavior are solvable, she said.
“It needs accountability and expectations of each age group,” Payton concluded.
Parent Chandra Jones-Graham also spoke in favor of mentorship.
“Kids learn best from other kids, particularly older kids,” she said.
She also noted the concern of a high school student in her break-out group who commented that teenagers, many of whom drive themselves to school, “can be reckless,” and the student said she wouldn’t want “to drive with little kids running around.”
High school history teacher John Day said that a young student in his break-out group also spoke about times high school students meet with Mills Lawn students for various programming.
“Everyone’s afraid of high school students doing something inappropriate, but that hasn’t been a problem,” Day said the younger student shared. “The real problem is when high school students come down unprepared” to present a planned activity with the younger kids.
High school student Haylee Sparks said that she felt multi-age interactions encouraged compassion and patience.
“It could prepare us for the future as well,” she said.
According to SHP notes, two earlier meetings of the EVT participants considered schooling-related lessons learned from the pandemic, looked at ways the current school buildings “get in the way” of learning and described their vision for “the perfect place for learning.”
They noted that buildings “get in the way of learning” by being:
• lacking collaborative spaces.
• deficient in electrical and technological infrastructure.
• detached from nature.
• a source of separation from others.
Describing “the perfect place for learning,” members listed:
• space to interact with each other.
• a strong connection to nature.
• psychological safety.
• a sense of community and belonging
• inspirational — “a place you want to be.”
• technologically “rich.”
• versatile, comfortable furnishings.
• varied, adaptable and flexible spaces.”
In a survey earlier this month of the CAT, participants were asked to pick the top five “values … critical to a Yellow Springs master plan” from a list of provided choices.
The results put “flexible space that can adapt to needs” at the lead with 14 respondents, or 56%, including it among their top five.
Other ranked values included:
• Connected to the environment and nature, 13 (52%).
• Highly paid, great teachers, 10 (40%).
• Affordability, 9 (36%).
• More robust technology to fit the space and new learning methods, 7 (28%).
• Wellness/safety in terms of things like ventilation, 7 (28%).
• Experiential learning prioritized, 7 (28%).
• Space for the arts, 6 (24%).
• Learning space for experiences, 5 (20%).
• Small class sizes, 5 (20%).
• Environmental sustainability, 5 (20%).
• Sports facilities, 5 (20%).
The general public can join the conversations in future community forums. In addition to the one scheduled Feb. 18, additional forums have been set March 4 and March 17.
Community members also can leave comments on the master planning website.
A future story will look deeper at projected costs, how OFCC funding works and compare the figures of neighboring districts that have undertaken construction projects through the OFCC.