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School facilities committee moves forward

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Proposed names for a new committee to look at Yellow Springs school facilities needs, as well as a tentative outline for their first three months of work, were presented to the school board during the board’s regular meeting Thursday, March 17.

Recently elected board members Judith Hempfling and Dorothée Bouquet, who were on different sides of the previous facilities plan that was defeated by voters this past fall, presented a joint proposal for moving forward on the issue last month. They, as do all board members, agree that district facilities need addressing, but the approach and costs are in question.

The focus of the new committee is to explore the feasibility of a phased permanent improvement plan, an approach Hempfling and new board member Amy Magnus championed in their runs for office. Although Bouquet supported the district’s plan to construct a new K–12 facility with the promise of a 26% reimbursement of costs from the state, the voters’ rejection of that plan convinced her that the community wants more information about alternatives.

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Hempfling told the board March 17 that she and Bouquet had revised the committee’s description in response to board members’ discussion during their Feb. 28 work session (covered in the March 3 issue of the News). Specifically, they clarified the expectation for the feasibility study.

“Given that the committee is an information gathering committee, we have placed the decision around feasibility with the school board who will make that decision in conversation with the community,” she said.

The proposed committee roster includes Bouquet and Hempfling, serving as co-chairs and liaisons to the board, and is divided between “building users” and “building/building system experts.”

Among the users are district Superintendent Terri Holden, Treasurer Jay McGrath, building principals Jack Hatert and Megan Winston, Mills Lawn teacher Kineta Sanford and district band and orchestra teacher Brian Mayer.

The proposed experts include Craig Conrad, the district’s maintenance supervisor; Chris Hamilton, an aerospace engineer who is also a parent and served on the 2019 Facilities Task Force; Jerry Papania, a civil engineer who is the parent of YSHS graduates and the chair of the Yellow Springs Energy Board; David Roche, a building inspector of commercial and residential properties; Michael Slaughter, an electrical engineer and IT professional; and Richard Zopf, who has knowledge of construction and building systems. Slaughter’s involvement with the local group working to preserve the Mills Lawn greenspace was not mentioned.

Additional proposed members of the facilities committee would be Scott Fife, a retired Centerville schools administrator who has experience with a permanent improvement plan there; and Dayton-based architect Mike Ruetschle, who worked with Yellow Springs in its 2018 facilities upgrade attempt and then served on the subsequent Facilities Task Force as a paid consultant. Ruetschle will again be paid for his time.

The newly formed committee, once in place, is to begin its work in April.

Board member Luisa Bieri Rios said she recognized that the proposed outline for the committee’s work was tentative, but she was concerned about listings for separate small group discussions by the “users” and the “experts” that appeared to limit the users’ areas of focus to “furnishings,” while the experts considered wider building systems needs.

“I think that we all know that the needs that we have are much more systemwide,” she said.

Principal Hatert agreed that building users should contribute to the discussions about systems.

The users may not have expertise in heating and cooling or electric systems, but they live with their effects in the classroom, he said.

Bouquet said that there was no intention to limit the scope of any small group, and Hempfling agreed that “furnishings is a small part of the total conversation.”

Bieri Rios also expressed concern about a reference in the committee proposal to district fundraising. She said that while she supports fundraising efforts, she wants to make sure that the board makes decisions based on secured pledges or money in hand.

“I won’t endorse a plan that relies on prospective funding or unpledged private funding,” she said.

“That ethically leaves our schools in a lurch and leaves us in danger of starting a project we can’t finish.”

The board did not take a vote on the proposed committee and discussion outline, but gave tacit approval for Hempfling and Bouquet to move forward with the work.

Other business from the school board’s March 15 meeting will be covered in a future issue of the News.

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