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Yellow Springs School Board

YS Schools facilities | Two new options, four total considered

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“It’s time.”

So said Mills Lawn guidance counselor and former middle and high school principal John Gudgel at the Yellow Springs Board of Education’s most recent work session on Friday, April 21, in the Mills Lawn gym. The statement was something of a running thesis during the meeting as the board draws ever closer to its May deadline of selecting a school facilities upgrade plan to place before voters.

By meeting’s end, school board members had pared the potential facilities plans to four — two fewer than at the board’s regular meeting the previous week. However, before board members and district administrators worked to cull the list of options, 18 district educators, including Gudgel, spoke before the board on facilities needs.

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The work session was held during a professional development day for educators; as the News reported in January, the district’s legal counsel has advised that district employees must not be compensated for any time they spend on any activity that might influence the outcome of an election. For that reason, the educators who spoke publicly did not comment directly on any of the plans currently being considered by the board, but instead spoke of their own experiences with the district’s current facilities.

Many of those who spoke said educators see a need for adequate spaces dedicated to special education, individual testing and small group instruction — elements of education that were not considered when the district’s current facilities were constructed.

“​​When Yellow Springs High School was built in the 1960s, the classrooms were designed for a lecture format, with students relying on text books for the bulk of their learning,” social studies teacher John  Day said. “But education has changed and student needs have changed.”

Faculty and staff also said the schools need soundproofing, storage space, improved restrooms, climate control and improved accessibility. Referring to these components of the schools, several educators highlighted the ways they feel current facilities do not meet basic comfort, equality and equity needs for students.

“I don’t find it fair or humane in any way for us to expect children to sit in spaces that, as adults, we would never volunteer to be in,” the district’s student advocate, Maya Luney-Ballew said.

New C, X plan options

The ultimate goal of the work session was for the board to continue to narrow the list of potential facilities upgrade plans, which began at eight options and had decreased to six.

However, at the beginning of the session, those present were met with a new list of 10 potential plans, with four additional options having been presented and discussed during a Friday, April 14, meeting between two members of the board, district administrators and the district’s contracted architect, Mike Ruetschle. Only two of the four new potential options, X2 and C6, remained in consideration by the board at press time.

The new options, according to district Treasurer Jay McGrath, are intended to address both positive and negative feedback from the community on the original slate of C plan options, which aimed to preserve schools at both campuses through various combinations of renovation and new construction and by restructuring which grades each school would serve.

“This is us investigating how we can refine things better,” McGrath said. “A lot of people liked the idea of the C plans when those first came out — and then the numbers came in. … So we started trying to rework those plans to make them better.”

Option X2 would involve restructuring Mills Lawn as a pre-K–2 facility, renovating a portion of the current building for that use and ultimately reducing the size of the student body. At the same time, a combination of demolition, renovation and new construction would turn the East Enon Road campus into an intermediate, middle and high school for grades 3–12.

The total square footage for Option X2 would be 159,313 — the largest of the options thus far — at an estimated cost of $54.3 million with a future Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, rebate of $9.3 million.

“The basic premise behind the X plan is to reduce costs by increasing the component of the plan that’s co-funded, and decreasing the component of the plan that’s locally funded,” architect Ruetschle said.

Similarly, Option C6 would restructure Mills Lawn as a K–5 facility, focusing on renovation of the current building, and with a combination of demolition, renovation and new construction, repurpose the East Enon Road campus as middle and high schools for grades 6–12. At a total square footage of 146,764, the estimated cost ranges from $55.8 million to $59.2 million, depending on the scope of renovations, with a future OFCC rebate of $8.2 million.

Though both the new X and C plans were presented at the work session, board members and district administrators focused primarily on discussing Option X2. Board Vice President Dorothée Bouquet said she believes the plan has “a lot of potential,” citing its lower cost compared to the C plans and the OFCC rebate.

“I think that this one checks several boxes in the affordability issue,” Bouquet said. “It [also] addresses the concerns over the environment, because we are doing our best to preserve two buildings and two campuses.”

She added: “Also, we’ve heard from our strategic planning process that there is a deep desire for [more] preschool offerings in this community.”

Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston said that because Option X2 would place students in the same facility for much of their academic career, it could potentially offer students and teachers better “vertical alignment” — that is, strategies that address how what is taught in one grade level affects the next grade level.

“It doesn’t mean that [younger] students will see eighth-graders, but it does allow flexibility for the adults that are planning and making sure that we are supporting students in the right way to collaborate within the same building,” Winston said.

Ruetschle expressed a concern about Option X2, saying that part of the lower cost reflected in the option is owed to decreasing the estimated budget for renovating Mills Lawn by half, which he called “a bit of a hasty decision.”

“The concept there was that half the load [of students] is coming out — we’ll halve the budget,” Ruetschle said.

He added, however, that reducing the student body would also create the option for a phased renovation of Mills Lawn. Additionally, he said, space not used for classrooms at Mills Lawn could potentially house district offices, allowing the district to save the money it currently spends to rent space at 888 Dayton St. The space might also be rented to another entity, creating an additional revenue source.

“So while we cut the budget for the Mills Lawn renovation in half, I do think we have some viable funding strategies that might allow that budget to increase,” Ruetschle said.

School board member Judith Hempfling also expressed concern about the plan, noting that the plan would mean only part of Mills Lawn would be renovated. She added that she also viewed Mills Lawn’s use as an elementary school as a “great strength.”

“That we would reduce the numbers of children that were actually going to this building, to me, we’d lose some of the positive impact of having this setting for a school,” Hempfling said.

After discussion of Option X2, the board swiftly agreed to reduce the facilities upgrade options to four following recommendations from both Bouquet and McGrath. Both agreed that Options C1, C3 and C5 were out of the price range the board is willing to consider, having estimated costs from $58.4 million to $66.5 million before an OFCC rebate. They also cited Option A2’s lack of OFCC rebate qualification paired with its higher price as reasoning for striking it.

With regard to Options B1 and X1 — the only remaining options that included entirely new facilities — McGrath wrote: “Options B1 and X1 … do not take advantage of the newest and most cost effective square footage that can be salvaged in an OFCC project.  Additionally, while any completely new builds are on the table, I cannot recommend action to address the gym roof and facade as quickly as possible.”

The remaining plans being considered are Option A1, Option B2, Option X2 and Option C6; see sidebar on this page for brief summaries of each.

The Board of Education will hold a special meeting Friday, April 28, beginning at 5 p.m., in the Yellow Springs High School Media Center. The meeting will focus on the remaining facilities options, which board members will continue to winnow as they approach the next regular board meeting Monday, May 22, when they will make their final selection.

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