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

Yellow Springs Board of Education to adopt ‘C7’ plan

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The regular meeting of the Board of Education on Monday, May 22, ended in applause from community members who were present: After more than a year of work and discussion, the board voted unanimously to select a plan for facilities upgrades to place on the ballot this fall.

The plan the board chose, however, was not one of the four options — A1, B2, X and C6 — that have been in consideration since April. Instead, the new plan and focus of a November levy — informally named “C7” during the meeting — incorporates elements of previous plans.

The C7 plan will maintain both campuses at Mills Lawn and at the East Enon Road site of McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High schools.

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According to the plan — which, like Option X, aims to make space for a public preschool program — Mills Lawn would become a pre-K through fourth grade school. Upgrades at the facility would include repairing the exterior of the building and full systems replacements; renovation to create new offices and a secure vestibule at the school’s entrance; and the demolition of the modular band room.

At the East Enon Road campus, a combination of demolition, renovation and new construction would create a facility for grades 5–12. Similar to the previous Option C6, the C7 plan maintains the current middle and high school gym and its 2002 addition while adding a new band room, a secure vestibule and classroom spaces in a new configuration. The current gym would be renovated to also serve as an auditorium. This portion of the project would be eligible for a 27% rebate from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC.

The estimated cost of the plan is $55.3 million, with an OFCC rebate of about $8.95 million.

Changing course

As the members of the board settled into discussing which plan to place before voters, they initially reiterated many of the same views they had shared during an April 28 special meeting.

Board President TJ Turner, Vice President Dorothée Bouquet and board member Luisa Bieri Rios all said that they would lend their support to Option X, which all three had scored high on rubrics in April. Option X would have created a preK–2 school at Mills Lawn, moving district offices into some of the vacated space and leasing unused space in the building to another entity; and created a 3–12 campus at East Enon Road.

“[Option X] really shows [the board’s] collaborative work … figuring out what we can keep and renovate and what we need to improve, and how we can serve the students and staff, and also hear all the priorities of the community,” Bouquet said. “So this is the plan that I intend on supporting tonight.”

Conversely, board members Judith Hempfling and Amy Magnus again communicated concerns about Option X, including its cost — the highest of the four plans — and whether it would be supported by a majority of voters, saying they instead intended to support Option C6.

“I do not believe the X plan takes care of the Mills Lawn facility adequately,” Hempfling said, pointing to reduced renovations at the facility based on a smaller student footprint. “I think a significant percentage of people would have a very difficult time supporting the X plan. … The C plan takes good care of Mills Lawn.”

As reported in the May 12th issue of the News, a simple majority of 3–2 is all that’s required to decide on a plan to place on the ballot, but the board must achieve an affirmative vote by four of its five members to approve both a resolution of necessity and a resolution to proceed. Without supermajority support for those votes, which are slated to be held in June and July, the board will not be able to file election proceedings for a levy with the county.

With the board still split on which plan its members would support, the meeting opened the floor to comments from community members. Twenty-two people spoke, with several referencing the YS Community Foundation’s facilities survey, the results of which had been released shortly before the meeting; see sidebar on page 7 for more on those results.

The majority of community members who spoke did so in favor of Option X. Nearly as many did not favor a specific option, but urged the board to find unity on a plan that all of its members can support heading into fall.

“I believe we, as a community, deserve the right to vote on something,” local resident Julia Bergman Lee said. “I will admit right now, I am plan agnostic, but a believer in action. So please work together and make a move.”

“I think you guys are really close,” parent and 2019–20 Facilities Task Force and 2022 Facilities Committee member Chris Hamilton later added. “I think if you keep honing in and take the best of X and C, you might have a solution that makes enough people in this community happy to vote for you.”

After the community comments portion of the meeting — and a break to consider those comments — board members and administrators returned to make their final decisions on a plan. Bouquet told the board that, during the break, she and Hempfling had been having an “on-the-fly” discussion about how to adopt a plan that makes room for a preschool — a desire repeated by supporters of Option X and stated as a goal by the district as part of its strategic planning — and preserves Mills Lawn as an elementary school, which Hempfling has often stated as a desirable outcome.

“When you take third, fourth and fifth grades away, you start to disrupt … the culture of an elementary school, which I believe is very important,” Hempfling said, referring to the preK–2 grade composition outlined in Option X, and suggested she would be open to a plan that divides the schools into preK–4 and 5–12 configurations.

In consideration of the work the district has done thus far with the OFCC to develop the size requirements for several of the potential facilities plans, Bieri Rios asked: “Is there any possibility of flexibility, or are we, at this point, locked in, so we need to go with one of these [four plans]?”

“We have to have a plan tonight for the OFCC,” Superintendent Terri Holden said, but added that “a lot happens in the design process” of a plan after it’s selected for the ballot.

“Should you say, ‘It’s our wish tonight to have a [plan] that is a K–4 and a 5–12,’ there’s enough flexibility with the OFCC to do that,” Holden said.

McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert said that dividing the district’s current schools into a K–4 and 5–12 grade configuration would hold the advantage of allowing the district to hire teachers who are licensed to instruct grades 4–9, specializing in one or two subject areas, for a newly formed 5–8 middle school.

“From a hiring standpoint, it would allow us to focus on the 4–9 license to teach both fifth and sixth grade, which in some ways would provide good flexibility,” Hatert said, adding that the configuration would also keep the district’s instrumental music program, which teaches  students in grades 5–12, on a single campus, and provide fifth and sixth graders potential exposure to the theater program at an earlier age.

“I see a 5–12 as a viable solution,” Hatert said, a statement Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston later echoed.

Though Bouquet pointed out that the shift in configuration would mean third and fourth grade students would not have access to theater, music and athletics education as they might have in Option X, she said she would be willing to support the new plan, provided it included a commitment to “take advantage of this resetting of the buildings to incorporate a preschool” at Mills Lawn. She and Bieri Rios also reminded those present that any selected plan should address the need for small group spaces, teacher work rooms, lunch and kitchen spaces and ADA accessibility in the design process.

With those elements in mind, and with agreement from the rest of its members, the school board voted 5–0 to support the newly minted C7 plan. The board is set to vote to move forward with placing the plan on the November ballot via a resolution of necessity at its next regular meeting Thursday, June 8.

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