BoE weighs dropping one school

Board member Barry Richard said the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission believes it would cost the district $43 million to keep all four buildings and renovate them.

Photos by Valerie Urbanik | Oberlin News-Tribune

Interim superintendent Jim Eibel discusses the proposed plans for consolidating the Oberlin City Schools down to three buildings.

Many questions were raised Tuesday by Oberlin board of education members mulling the idea of closing a school building.

A consolidation committee was assembled by former superintendent John Schroth in the fall of 2014, consisting of principals, a teacher, a parent, and union president to review the district’s facilities.

“Our task was to see if we could physically put four buildings worth of students in three buildings,” said interim superintendent Jim Eibel. “We thought either Prospect or Eastwood could handle preschool through third grade.”

The group looked at moving those grades into Eastwood or Prospect elementaries, putting the fourth through seventh grades at Langston Middle School and having the eighth through 12th grades at Oberlin High School.

Only one of the elementary buildings would be used under the plan and the other would be closed.

Langston and the high school were the two easiest buildings for the committee to move classrooms around and find space for additional students because they are so large.

The committee found that each elementary school had advantages and disadvantages: Prospect is larger and able to handle roughly 50 more students but has a roof leak, while Eastwood has enough classrooms for core classes but could lose a music, art, and Spanish classroom.

Consolidating either elementary building would require relocating the computer room and finding a new space for music or orchestra classes.

Eastwood principal Susan Alig said she can absorb preschool through third grade but worries about transportation at the beginning and end of the day.

“Is it the ideal situation we want to have for the type of education we want to provide for the students? I would say no,” Alig said. “Could we make it happen? Absolutely.”

Any variation on consolidation would require some type of upgrades or fixes for bathrooms, classrooms, computer labs, water leaks, more parking, and storage space.

Eibel said the district uses its permanent improvement money every year to repair boilers, patch roofs, and buy curriculum.

“We exhaust that every year, usually before the end of the year,” he said. “So any money we would be talking about for upgrades could be from the general fund reserve.”

If the board decides to consolidate, the district will find a way to make it work, said vice president Anne Schaum.

Eibel said the committee focused on short-term fixes for the buildings and did not evaluate long-term impacts.

“You obviously made the decision to go ahead and try to get new buildings because you know the cost associated with if we have to stay in these buildings for any length of time. Obviously the PI budget is not going to be able to take that because we’ve exhausted it every year like we currently do and that’s not with upgrading things, that’s with our maintenance costs,” he said. “If you’re looking to stay in these buildings any more than a short period of time, then there’s going to be some long-term funding challenges.”

Board member Barry Richard shared what the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission believes would be the cost to renovate each building: $15 million for the high school, $13 million for Langston, $8 million for Prospect, and $7 million for Eastwood.

“The decision has to come down to what we as a district can afford to have,” Schaum said.

Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.