By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green school officials are facing four major decisions – and none of them are easy.
Does the district want to fund building projects locally or use some state funding? Should the district consolidate the elementary schools or stick with neighborhood buildings? Should the district renovate, construct new or do nothing with its buildings? And lastly, how can they get the word out to more people in order to get more educated input.
“We want to know what our taxpayers are thinking,” Superintendent Francis Scruci said during another public meeting Thursday about building options.
The options are many, but none will move quickly. The earliest the district will put a levy on the ballot is May of 2017. “I like May elections,” Scruci said. “I’ll tell you why. People tend to be a little more positive.”
And the earliest a new school might be constructed would be three years after getting the approval from the school board.
The most expensive option calls for the consolidation of the three elementaries into one central building, and major renovations to the high school. That option has a price tag of $54 million. It’s unsure how much millage that would require, but if that is the option selected, the district would not piecemeal it over different elections. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it,” Scruci said.
A less expensive option calls for a new Conneaut Elementary, and renovations to Kenwood, Crim and the high school – estimated to cost $44 million. But that brings up the question, “how much good money do we put into old buildings,” Scruci asked.
Doing nothing is not a very realistic option since the school buildings are bursting at the seams, with modular classrooms being added to Conneaut this year and likely at Kenwood next year.
“We are at capacity,” Scruci said. “Our class sizes aren’t getting smaller.” Projections call for enrollment to grow by 100 to 150 students in the next decade.
Earlier this year, the district received the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission survey which looked at 24 systems – such as heating, electrical or lighting – at each of the five school buildings and attached renovation and replacement dollars to them.
The survey found Conneaut Elementary to have the greatest needs, followed by Kenwood Elementary, the High School, Crim Elementary and then the Middle School. If the cost to renovate a school exceeds 66 percent of the cost to build a new school, then the commission considers it wise to build new. Conneaut is the only school to exceed that two-thirds threshold, though Kenwood and the high school are close.
Though some school districts in the area have received significant financial help for constructing new buildings from the OFCC program, Bowling Green would not, Scruci said.
The district’s acreage and college population makes it look wealthier than it actually is, Scruci said. The 118-square-mile district is mostly farmland which saw an increase in valuation, plus the district’s population includes “phantom” numbers of transient college students. Those two factors mean Bowling Green would get just 11 to 14 cents for every $1 spent on new construction.
Working with state money comes with state strings, Scruci said. “Do we give up local control for 11 cents on every dollar?”
An emphasis would be on making the buildings energy efficient, and cooling the high school, which does not have air conditioning. “We know our buildings are hot. We know our kids melt,” Scruci said.
“I invite any Bowling Green resident to come to our school the second day of the school year,” and experience the heat wave that can reach 108 degrees on the second floor of the high school, Principal Jeff Dever said.
If the district decides to consolidate its elementaries, Scruci said, the biggest issue for some people will be the loss of “neighborhood schools.” But the benefits to consolidation include the ability to equalize class sizes, eliminate neighborhood labeling, allow for sharing of resources, and increase collaborations among teachers. Crim teacher Stacey Higgins said the idea of consolidation is a little frightening, but full of exciting possibilities.
Scruci said such collaborations could help the district address its latest state report card that will be discussed at the July 26 school board meeting.
“Our school report card does not look very good,” he said. “We’re not going to make excuses. We accept that responsibility and we’re going to make changes.”
The consolidation would require more student busing, but it would mean the end of transporting students between school buildings for special programs.
The school district already owns 10-11 acres north of the middle school on Fairview Avenue that could be used for a new consolidated elementary. But parent Vicki Venn suggested that the school district consider the southern end of the city for a consolidated elementary.
“I see the south end of town dying,” Venn said. “Our district is south. We are Milton Center. We are Custar. We are Rudolph and Portage.” And a school at the northern edge of Bowling Green will mean even longer bus rides for many students.
Another citizen said that neighborhoods are strengthened by schools, and removing them will only hurt those areas. That comment led to a discussion about Bowling Green City Council’s efforts to improve neighborhoods.
“The city has got to take our housing much more seriously than it has been,” Scruci said, noting a lack of attention to maintenance on homes. “The major land owners in this community are making a lot of money off of rentals.”
The schools should not be held responsible for propping up the neighborhoods, he said.
“Nobody is moving to this community for a new city building” – but they will move here for new schools, Scruci said.
Resident Lori Young said City Council moves at “glacial speed,” and sometimes needs nudges from the community. “The council is really moved by how many people are there. The city won’t do anything if you don’t go to city meetings.”
School board member Ginny Stewart said both she and Scruci have been attending council meetings to make sure the schools are not overlooked.
“I don’t feel the schools are respected as an equal part in this community,” Scruci said. “I want to be an active partner with the university and the city, but at the end of the day, I’m going to fight for the kids.”
To give residents a better idea of school consolidation issues, it was suggested that the district offer a bus ride for local citizens to a district that has already consolidated. Scruci also continued his offer to speak with any neighborhood group interested in the school building options.
“This is not going to be an easy decision, but any stretch of the imagination,” he said.