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Yellow Springs Schools held its second listening session concerning facilities on Feb. 21 in the Mills Lawn gym. As part of the session, the main details of each of the facilities options currently being considered by the board were posted on the gym wall, and those present were invited to write what they liked and what questions they had about each option. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Community opines on facilities options

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The Yellow Springs Board of Education convened its second listening session about district facilities on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Mills Lawn Elementary School, where a few dozen villagers gathered to discuss the facilities options previously presented at the Feb. 9 meeting of the board. The listening session was held to gather feedback and suggestions from community members on the future of the school district’s infrastructure as the board works to place a facilities levy on this November’s ballot.

The event began with a presentation on the options currently being considered by the board, followed by time for those in attendance to anonymously write their thoughts about each of the options. The meeting concluded with members of the school board reading the anonymous comments aloud to those in attendance. 

Mark Ruetschle of Ruetschle Architects — and brother of Mike Ruetschle, who has attended Facilities Committee and school board meetings frequently to discuss facilities over the last year — presented the options currently being considered by the board. Though those options were presented as eight distinct plans at the Feb. 9 school board meeting, they were grouped into what Ruetschle called three “buckets” for the listening session:

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Option A  Keep schools in their current grade configurations and locations and upgrade with either minimal or full renovations at both campuses; no reimbursement through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, would be offered for this option.

Option B — Bring all district students to a K–12 campus at the middle and high schools’ current East Enon Road location, either by demolishing the current middle and high school buildings and constructing an entirely new facility, or by a combination of renovation and additions, with the current tower, band room and middle school “shoebox” portions to be demolished. Both options would qualify for OFCC co-funding through a 27% rebate of abatement, demolition and construction costs.   

Option C Keep the two campuses at their current locations, but change their grade configurations via one of four paths: renovation of Mills Lawn for grades K–4, and a new 5–12 campus on East Enon Road; a new K–4 building at the location of Mills Lawn and a new 5–12 building on East Enon Road; renovation of Mills Lawn for grades K–4 at Mills Lawn and a combination of renovation, demolition and new construction for grades 5–12 on East Enon Road; or a new K–4 building at the current location of Mills Lawn and a combination of renovation, demolition and new construction for grades 5–12 on East Enon Road. Reconfiguring grade levels via these plans may also make room for a pre-K program at Mills Lawn.

Because the OFCC will not co-fund projects pertaining to facilities that house fewer than 350 students, only the portions of the Option C projects sited at East Enon Road for grades 5–12 would be eligible for the 27% reimbursement credit, with the exception of some abatement or demolition costs at Mills Lawn if warranted.

Responding to a question about locally funded initiatives, or LFIs — the OFCC’s term for projects or portions of projects that are not eligible for reimbursement, such as the plans laid out in Option A and portions of Option C — Mark Ruetschle clarified that the OFCC only co-funds approved designs that include “baseline” facilities options.

“It would be up to you if you wanted to add any of what they’ve said are not baseline — that would be like sports [facilities] or an auditorium, things like that,” he said. “Those would be an LFI if the community decided they wanted that.”

He added that all funding for a project — whether co-funded by the OFCC, funded as part of an LFI or both — would be pursued by the district as part of the same levy campaign.

Superintendent Terri Holden responded to a question about why cost analyses comparing each option were not made available for the listening session, saying that the board was “trying deliberately to not have dollars” as part of the evening’s discussion.

“That is the law that we currently have to abide by,” she said, referring to restrictions put in place by the state auditor governing how and when a district can discuss levy costs. She added that the district also does not yet have updated cost projections from the OFCC for Options B and C, but that those numbers are forthcoming and will be discussed at April’s listening session.

There were also questions about how the district plans to use the 27% reimbursement it would receive from the OFCC if it pursues Options B or C.

“The Board of Education gets the reimbursement,” Holden said in response. “At that point, they have options.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the board,” school board member Luisa Bieri Rios added, “but the options are to use the money to directly pay down or change the millage [of the levy] or directly pay back into the project itself.”

As the News reported following the first facilities listening session in January, the district may decide to use the rebate to pay down the remaining debt on a bond or other debt issued for the project.

In a follow-up conversation and email with the News, district Treasurer Jay McGrath clarified that, if a project is funded with a combination of a bond issue and income tax, the district will have a “multitude of options” for how to use the rebate once it is received, from reducing debt to funding operations. 

McGrath wrote: “I cannot say what a future board will do, but I would recommend the rebate be used in the most advantageous way to lower the cost of the project to the community at that time.”

Following the presentation and discussion, attendees were encouraged to write what they liked and what questions they had about each option on sticky notes and post them on the wall near large posters detailing each of the three option “buckets.” The comments were then collected and read aloud.

Comments concerning what people liked about Option A included preserving Mills Lawn as a centrally located school; utilizing the 2002 additions at both Mills Lawn and YS High School; the lower cost of a minimal renovation compared to full renovation or a new build; and addressing the needs of elementary school students with a separate campus. Attendees wondered whether or not minimal renovations could fully address educational, safety, accessibility and aesthetic needs for the schools; about the community impact of pursuing a plan without state reimbursement; and the financial and student impact costs of displacing students during renovation.

For Option B, those present appreciated the potential cost savings, shared resources and efficiency of a single campus; the potential draw of a new, K–12 facility for new families; and that the entirety of each plan in Option B would qualify for 27% reimbursement from the OFCC. Remaining questions included wondering about the logistics of having one building for all students and whether a single campus would offer enough space; the future of the Mills Lawn site if it’s no longer used as a school; and whether voters would support a new K–12 plan after a K–12 plan was voted down at the polls in 2021. 

Commenting on Option C, attendees liked its flexibility and the separation of campuses. The potential preservation of Mills Lawn was valued by some, and the possibility of a new build by others. Also valued was the eligibility for state reimbursement for some parts of construction and/or renovation and the possibility of instituting a preschool program at Mills Lawn. Attendees had questions about how fifth- and sixth-grade students would be affected by being moved to the middle school and about the costs of Option C’s plans, which, unlike portions of Options A and B, have not yet been explored or discussed.

The collected comments will serve as the basis of the district’s next listening session, which will be held Thursday, March 16, 6–8 p.m., in the Mills Lawn gym.

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