A $36.3 million proposal for a new Oberlin PK-12 school has been a talking point for board of education members and residents, but students’ voices have been all but lost in the discussion.
We sat down with three high school students to get a different perspective. The ninth-graders will have graduated by the time the construction would be complete but shared their personal experiences learning in the district’s four aging buildings.
The solution isn’t a simple as building a new school, they said, but it may help.
Maggie Shuck first said she is torn on the Oberlin board of education’s one-campus idea because of the district’s small size.
She attended a tour organized by the board to see North Ridgeville’s new third- to eighth-grade school.
North Ridgeville has more people per grade than Oberlin has in a single school, Shuck said, so “it would make more sense to build onto the high school than having a humongous school and wasting tax dollars on something we don’t necessarily need.”
She suggested making use of the extra space at Langston Middle School or decreasing the size of the proposed new school.
Having four separate schools doesn’t make financial sense, but it gives students a chance to feel what it’s like to be both the youngest and the oldest, Caleb Peterson said. Moving on to each building gave him a sense of pride.
He said while he knows the single-building campus would be separated, having 12th-graders in the same school as kindergartners doesn’t sit well with him.
It would be better if Eastwood and Prospect elementary schools were together and Langston Middle School and the high school were combined, he said.
“But if you’re going to make two new schools, you may as well put them in the same area with a corridor to connect them,” Shuck replied.
“I think everybody would benefit more from a combined, more put-together school, like the one on the ballot. The commute might make more sense for parents and it would be nicer to be together for our curriculum and to also interact with grades below and above.”
Their opinions tipped back and forth during the discussion, but something they all agreed on was that the district’s current buildings are negatively affecting learning.
When asked about the lack of air conditioning, they responded with a chorus of exasperation.
The uncontrolled heat causes more problems than it needs to, Shuck said, like controversies with the school’s dress code and loss of instruction time.
Camden Thompson said one teacher would take the class into the cafeteria just to cool off because students would be “going wild.”
“You can’t even focus,” Peterson said. “If you can’t concentrate, you’re going to do something you’re not supposed to do that gets you in trouble. If you can’t focus, you won’t take notes in class and you’re not going to do well.”
They joked about worrying the ceilings would collapse and all complained the buildings are dirty, smelly, and moldy. Shuck said there is a single bathroom at the high school and only one stall locks. The faucets rarely work.
“It’s the the little stuff,” Peterson said. “I know there are more important things but it’s the little things that add up. When stuff is falling apart around you, you’re not going to be able to focus or pay attention. You’ll be distracted.”
Cooling systems cannot be installed everywhere because of the wiring running through the old buildings, superintendent David Hall previously said after extreme September heat forced him to cancel class.
But even if it were possible to put an air conditioning unit in every single classroom, it would solve only one of the district’s problems, Peterson said.
“You feel a certain type of way about your school if you hear a teacher say they would never send their child to this school,” he said. “Little problems add up and make an impact on the bigger picture and how we want Oberlin represented and how we want people to think about Oberlin. We don’t want to be thought about negatively. We want to be one of the best schools to go to. We want everyone to say, ‘Man, I wish I went to Oberlin’ instead of ‘Man, I wish I went to Elyria.’ It’s a sense of pride you want to feel about yourself. You don’t want to be frowned upon.”
Shuck agreed — the image of Oberlin schools needs a makeover. A new school would help change how other people view the district, she said, and it would encourage them to enroll their kids.
Oberlin has been plastered with a label of “bad schools,” she said, and a new building may not be the right solution, but walking into North Ridgeville’s new school made her want a change.
It was visually appealing and looked nice on the inside and out, she said. “Being here, it’s sort of drowsy. It’s beige. I want colors. And in a school, modern things make sense. It’ll help you learn better. Everything needs to be updated.”
If the 4.81-mill levy passes, Peterson’s wish is to keep everything in good condition.
“We’ve had good stuff but we just let it go to waste because we don’t maintain it,” he said.
During the new school tour, they each liked the cleanliness, a couch-filled student area, and the large parking lots, cafeteria, gym, locker rooms, and the playground built with student input.
The $17.8 million bond issue, if successful, will first help build a new school to replace Eastwood and Prospect elementaries. The goal is to eventually finish a 132,370-square-foot PK-12 school once state money becomes available, which will lower the local price to from $43.3 to $36.3 million.
An estimated $3 million credit would be reimbursed after the entire project is completed.
Opponents of the project have claimed that an undue burden on taxpayers will make Oberlin a more expensive place to live, leading to a more gentrified and aging community.
Many feel unwisely spent money, top-heavy administration, low state report card grades, and lack of building upkeep are the key concerns.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.