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Apr
24
2024
Yellow Springs School Board

School Matters

Residents, educators air concerns over school performing arts space

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It was standing-room-only in the YS High School Media Center during the first hour of the school board’s regular meeting Thursday, Feb. 8.

Twenty local residents, including several YS Schools students and educators, spoke during the community comments portion of the meeting, many with the same concern: Imploring the members of the school board not to divert funding away from the performing arts space planned for the district’s facilities improvement project.

Those concerns were later addressed by the board, with Vice President Rebecca Potter assuring those present that there were no plans to abandon or divert funds from the performing arts space.

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As has been reported by the News in the past, the master plan for the project — which is projected to be completed in July 2026 — includes the renovation of McKinney Middle and YS High schools’ existing gym for use by fifth and sixth grade students, who will be educated at the East Enon Road campus rather than Mills Lawn Elementary School upon the project’s completion. The renovation is also slated to include revamping the gym’s stage and the installation of new, retractable bleachers so that the gym can double as a performance space. A new, larger gym for use by middle and high school students will also be constructed.

The concern about the funding of the planned performance space, according to those who spoke, was spurred by a document included in that evening’s agenda, which was posted online in advance. That document was a proposal, written by Potter, for the formation of an Arts Space and Equipment Advisory Committee. According to the document, the purpose of the proposed ad hoc committee would be to “provide guidance on how the facilities reno/demo/add for Mills Lawn School and the 5th–12th building can best serve arts education for the District [and] provide guidance on design and equipment options.”

Of particular concern was one sentence from the document about the proposed committee’s purpose, which suggested that the committee’s members look for “funding opportunities through grants and philanthropic giving to support and enhance these spaces.”

The concern addressed by many who spoke was a conception that the inclusion of the line in the document communicated the possibility of diverting the voter-approved bond issue and income tax funding away from the renovation of the gym and performance space, with the funding to be replaced by outside grants.

Some who spoke were also worried that, if the district pursued outside funding, the gym and performance space would not receive the renovations outlined in the district’s master plan documents.

“I’ve been in the arts a long time, and I know that arts require advocacy — we’re always the first thing off the budget,” performing arts teacher Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp said during the meeting. “So the first thing I want to do is volunteer wholeheartedly to sit on [the proposed arts space] committee.”

In addition, some who spoke communicated worries about potential delays in the facilities project’s planning process, echoing a concern communicated in a letter sent to the board by a group of local residents in January, which the News reported on last month.

“It’s the school board’s and the administration’s responsibility to lead, to get us through this thing,” said local resident Scott Fife, who served on both the Facilities Committee for the project and on the school board for several months last year. “The voters have spoken. We got the funds. Let’s get it done.”

Following community comments, board Vice President Rebecca Potter thanked those who had spoken and responded to the concerns raised.

“I understand a lot of these comments were directed at me,” Potter said. “I did mention the possibility of re-examining the theater space, and that was interpreted, I can say, absolutely incorrectly as my wanting to not have a theater space as part of the plan.”

She added: “I have no alternative plan. I do not plan to slow down or subvert the process. …  I really, really welcome [Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp’s] willingness to serve on this committee.”

Later in the meeting, before the board unanimously approved the Arts Space and Equipment Advisory Committee, Potter expanded on the function of the committee, stating that its purpose would not be to make decisions about the performing arts space, but rather to help the district “make informed decisions.”

Potter added that Sparrow-Knapp had supplied the board with a list of area performing arts professionals who would be potential candidates for the committee, including band and orchestra teacher Brian Mayer, who Potter said had also expressed interest in joining.

Superintendent Terri Holden suggested that the district’s other fine arts staff should also be considered for the committee. She also cautioned board members to be wary of “committee fatigue” when considering the work ahead for the facilities project.

Board member Dorothée Bouquet broached the community comments earlier in the meeting, saying the language of the committee proposal may have “triggered such a response” from those who spoke because further clarity was needed.

“About external funding … can you clarify whether or not it [would be] in replacement of a budget, or in addition?” Bouquet asked.

Potter confirmed that the exploration of external funding mentioned in the proposal would be in addition to budgeted funds from the bond issue and income tax allocated to the overall facilities improvement project.

“I don’t have any knowledge of any arts projects that haven’t tried to enhance what they’re building by finding philanthropic donations or grants,” Potter said. “We don’t know the amount of money that’s currently targeted for the theater space in the gym — I’m hoping we can do more than that.”

Board member Amy Bailey noted that the committee would need to include no more than two school board members and that any nonboard members would need to be approved by the school board at its next meeting.

Core Team members approved

The board also approved Bouquet and Potter to serve on the facilities project’s Core Team for the next two years. The Core Team will meet regularly with Ruetschle Architects, the district’s contracted architect for the project, and its construction manager at-large, which the district will select in the coming month.

“The Core Team is going to baby this project from start to finish,” Superintendent Holden said, adding that the team will begin by looking over the project’s program of requirements, or POR, as laid out by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, with district administrators heading into the facilities project’s design phase.

Holden said certain elements of the facilities project’s master plan are contingent on the POR. Those elements include the demolition of the “tower” portion of YS High School, its band room and the retrofitted modular building that currently houses McKinney Middle School; the construction of a new secure vestibule, band room, gym and classroom wings to house grades 5–8 and 9–12; and the renovation of the current middle and high school gym and surrounding classrooms.

“There is still time for input, but for the big pieces, that time has passed,” Holden said. “We can’t keep the tower. But we can do a heck of a lot of other things that have meaning for us, that have value for us, and that will be wonderful for our children.”

Schools to close for eclipse

Holden announced during the meeting that YS Schools will be closed Monday, April 8, the day of the total solar eclipse.

Yellow Springs is within the path of totality — that is, the path within which the moon will completely block the sun during the eclipse — marking it and other nearby Ohio municipalities as likely conversion sites for those traveling to view the phenomenon. This expected congestion in the village, Holden said, spurred the district’s decision to close schools on that day.

“I have no confidence that if we have an issue, I could have emergency responders here, and I cannot have children or staff here because of that,” Holden said. “So [it will be] a calamity day. We do have glasses for everyone, all adults and students in the system. We will send them home, and teachers will be talking to children about the total solar eclipse and will also be reminding them about safety.”

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