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Sep
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2022
Yellow Springs School Board

Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Middle School as it appeared in late September last year. (Drone photo by Bryan Cady)

School board discusses facilities renovation drafts

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At its most recent regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8, the school board heard a presentation from architect Mike Ruetschle that laid out first drafts of potential floor plans for renovating the local public schools.

Ruetschle, who was hired by the district to assess the facilities’ improvement needs, first presented the draft plans at a Sept. 1 meeting of the Facilities Committee; the committee formed in March to explore the feasibility of a phased, permanent-improvement plan to repair and upgrade the district’s buildings.

The draft plans included a number of deep renovations and some new construction intended to address issues including security, functionality, space and accessibility in the schools. An initial and more extensive report on Ruetschle’s presentation is available in the Sept. 8 issue of the News.

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Speaking before the school board, Ruetschle stressed that the draft plans represent the first step in an “iterative process,” and are not final.

“The journey goes from here,” with further discussions and input from the board, the committee and school staff, he said, on “how this plan, this vision might evolve.”

To that end, the board responded to the presentation with questions and comments about potential additions and augmentations to the draft plans.

Both Vice President Dorothée Bouquet and board member Luisa Bieri-Rios asked about upgraded storm shelters for the schools; Ruetschle clarified that newly constructed rooms on the draft plans for both campuses could serve as storm shelters if their walls were hardened in accordance with current state storm shelter requirements. (A statewide moratorium on upgrading storm shelters to withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds, a requirement that the schools’ current storm shelters do not meet, is set to expire on Nov. 30 this year.)

Bouquet also asked about changes that might be made to the large, floor-to-ceiling windows in classrooms in the newer portion of Mills Lawn. Teachers, she said, have reported that they feel unsafe with regard to the possibility of an intruder and that they “wouldn’t know where to hide.”

Ruetschle said egress windows, which would provide an emergency exit, could be installed, as well as large blinds to obscure the view from the outside. He also suggested the addition of security film to the windows, which would help reinforce them against penetration.

Another concern iterated by several board members was that the plans did not include any renovations or new construction dedicated to theater performance space. Ruetschle said the current stage in the high school’s gym could be outfitted with stage lights and other equipment to make it performance-ready, but McKinney and YS High School Principal Jack Hatert asserted that the gym, already heavily used for sporting events, could not support both uses at the same time.

Also of concern for both Ruetschle and board members was that the plans don’t include a significant renovation of the gym itself; though the gym is regulation-size, the space between the base line and walls falls short of requirements by about three inches. To extend this space, Ruetschle said, would require retooling the court and removing part of the stage.

Other issues voiced by the board included concerns that new and renovated kitchens and dining areas might still be insufficient, providing natural light for interior offices and an adequate number of gender-neutral bathrooms, which Ruetschle said could be addressed.

The board still has to hear preliminary reports from the district’s contracted maintenance plan advisor, Motz Engineering, who will advise on improvements to be made to the buildings’ exteriors and for long-term maintenance. Michael Murdock will present Motz’s initial report at the Facilities Committee’s Oct. 6 meeting. Both Ruetschle and Murdock will present revised drafts of their plans over the next several months.

Superintendent Terri Holden reminded the board that more data-gathering and discussion is still ahead, and said it’s possible not every identified need will be addressed in a final draft of potential floor plans.

“At some point, we do need to see the whole picture,” she said. “But even with the whole picture, we’re going to have to make choices.”

Ruetschle’s draft floor plans, as well as a timeline of the Facilities Committee’s work thus far, videos of past meetings and documents from those meetings, are available online at ysschools.org/facilities.

Mills Lawn fencing approved

The board unanimously approved Holden’s request to install fencing, with a cost of up to $25,000, to enclose Mills Lawn’s younger student playground. The installation was originally discussed at the board’s Aug. 29 work session on safety and security, though no decision was made at that time.

Cited reasons for considering the fence were ensuring the safety of small children on the playground, which abuts two streets; and physically limiting public access to that area of school grounds, which are closed to the public during the school day.

Holden said around 600 feet of black, rubberized chain-link fence would be needed to enclose the area; the fence will be four feet tall. The district has received one quote for the fence from a potential contractor, and will receive two more; Holden said she had been advised by potential contractors that construction delays should be expected.

She added that it is not the district’s intent to “keep the public out,” but reminded those present that the playground is used every school day by students, and that the district “must take action to keep students safe.”

“It’s certainly not to discourage use after-hours or on the weekends — I think we might need to play it by ear,” she said, and cited comments from faculty and board members about hazardous materials left behind on the playground. “Hopefully we can stop that, because the goal is not to keep anybody out.”

In other school board business Sept. 8:

• Holden announced that the district is in talks with MVECA, located at 888 Dayton St., to lease space in the facility to relocate the district offices. The district’s current offices, located across the street from Mills Lawn in the village’s former library, are “no longer meeting the needs” of the district employees who work there, Holden said.

The space at MVECA, she added, would be an improvement in terms of accessibility and ample space. Holden will bring the matter before the board at its next regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13.

• Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston said the school recently installed “sensory pathways” in its hallways. The colorful guided movements line the walls and floors outside classrooms, and invite students to follow simple prompts, like pushing against the wall, hopscotching or following a trail of numbers. The pathways, Winston said, give students an opportunity to use their brains and bodies when they are “experiencing frustration, anxiety or other sensory overloads during the school day.”

• Hatert reported that McKinney Middle School’s annual “Into the Wild” bike trip for seventh-graders, now in its seventh year, will be featured in the nationally circulated Rails to Trails Magazine.

• Holden and district Treasurer Jay McGrath will present a State of the Schools address on Wednesday, Oct. 12, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Mills Lawn gym.

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