New BG high school recommended: Elementaries are on back burner

Right now, Bowling Green High School is not user friendly for anyone who uses a wheelchair.

And that will become a problem next year when a freshman who uses a wheelchair enters the school.

There is only one restroom in the entire school this student will be able to use and getting to it could be an issue with one elevator that is not centrally located, said Principal Dan Black.

That is one of the reasons why a community group tasked with exploring facilities needs is recommending the construction of a new high school.

Black went through the deficiencies of his school as part of a community meeting held Wednesday to discuss the future of district facilities.

The issues that he faces every day include lack of ADA access, science rooms not properly equipped, constant steam pipe leaks, room size issues, teaching for the future with technology of the past and a shift in teaching and learning styles.

“We’re trying to prepare our kids for the future while we’re stuck in a building built in 1963, not designed for what we’re trying to do,” Black said. “I know our teachers are doing the best they can.”

He said every summer he gives tours of the building – when there is no air conditioning.

“I do my best to tell them we have great staff … but when you look at the facility, it’s tough to sell them,” Black said. “When they can go down the road in any direction and see a facility that is updated and looks nice, and cool, it is very difficult to beat that.”

“As you know, our facilities are in need of attention,” said Superintendent Francis Scruci at the start of the hour-long forum.

In August, a core group that began discussing solutions to district facilities selected a cross section of more than 80 community members, including parents, alumni, farmers and business leaders.

“We didn’t want the choir,” Scruci said, and added that less than 50% of the group was district staff.

“What we learned from the last go-around is that we wanted to make sure that the community felt engaged and an active partner in this process,” Scruci said.

High school student Brynna Gaines said she can’t focus when she has to go from a classroom that is burning hot to one that is freezing cold.

As a member of the Bobcat volleyball team, she sees the resources offered in other districts, then comes back to BGHS and smells the mold and steam in the hallways.

She said she is frustrated that the district has not made changes to the high school.

“We do deserve a better building that supports the amazing students and teachers that we have,” Gaines said.

There will be a tour of the high school on March 17 at 7 p.m. and another community forum on March 22 at which time the same information will be presented. That presentation will start at 6 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.

There potentially could be a bond issue on the ballot in November.

Ninety-five percent of committee members agreed that building a new high school was the way to go.

“We want to come to the public with the issue to build a new high school,” said committee member Richard Strow. “We want to show the public we can do that well, that we can make a difference in the community.”

He suggested revisiting the elementaries once the middle school is paid off in 10 years.

It would cost $29 million to renovate the high school and between $48.2 million and $58 million to build new.

In January, the advisory committee started developing a master plan, with the question of whether there should be one, two or three elementaries and what to do with the high school, Strow said.

“These were all questions we had to answer so as a group we could bring forth to the public what we considered to be our master plan to share with the board,” he said.

“The high school we have today is the same high school I graduated from in 1977,” Strow said.

The discussions centered around what areas could be saved at the high school, and whether to consolidate the elementaries or go to a two-building system.

“The elementaries are definitely a concern. Two have outlived their usefulness,” Strow said.

A survey of the committee showed 65% favored a phase in of construction, he said, but that there needs to be a clearly defined plan up front of what the district is going to do and when.

A split decision of 50-50 between one and two elementaries showed the community is still at odds about what to do with those buildings, Strow said.

“At this point, one of the biggest problems we’re facing is a consensus of what to do with the elementary buildings,” he said.

Efforts to pass a bond issue for one consolidated elementary failed in three attempts.

“In my mind, there is absolutely no question this is the route we need to go. We’ve got to start some place and history has told us … we need to focus our attention right now on the high school,” Strow said.

Therefore, “we would like to move forward with the high school first,” he said.

In time, there may be more community consensus of where to go with the elementaries, but in the meantime, make the necessary improvements to keep them operational, Strow said.

The district can use the $8 million freed up from the continuing levies to make these improvements, Scruci said.

Dan Obrynba, project executive with Fanning Howey, said a new high school could be built to the west of the existing building.

He explained Ohio Facilities Construction Commission funding is at least 10 years away and there was a strong consensus of the advisory committee – 87% — to not use state funding.

The advisory committee has held five meeting since September and toured the new K-12 school in Northwood.

“The work these people did was very valuable,” Scruci said.

Obrynba said the advisory committee talked about building conditions, general appeal and marketability, community pride and project costs.

“Parents have options whether they live in a district or whether they’re considering a district,” he said, echoing Black’s concern. “Older facilities versus new facilities I can’t help but think that parents are somewhat drawn to newer facilities. …”

Goals that came out the committee were safety and security, educational efficiency and effectiveness, operating costs and general appeal/marketability.

A survey of those in the advisory committee indicated 99% felt there is a need to update facilities.

It would cost $8 million to renovate Conneaut Elementary, which was built in 1954 and added on twice in the 1980s.

It would cost $6.7 million to renovate Kenwood Elementary, which was built in 1953 and added onto in 1988.

It would cost $2.3 million to renovate Crim Elementary, which was built in 1957 and added onto in 1963 and 2012.

One of the suggestions if the district goes to two elementary schools is to make Crim a preschool-kindergarten building and provide space for special education students as well as the central office.

Scruci said after the presentation that the elementaries are like a lightening rod in the community, but everyone can support a high school plan.

“Everybody ends up there,” he said, adding that he wasn’t surprised there was more of a consensus for the high school.

“It certainly didn’t surprise me that when we voted, 50% wanted one building and 50% wanted two. It’s evenly divided.”

Kati Thompson has five children in the district.

“The master plan that was presented was very well done, very thoroughly thought through, and it makes sense,” she said

“We need to move ahead with what we can do,” said Ken Rieman, who was on the task force in support of one elementary. “We need to move ahead where we can get a consensus. We’ve got to do something in this community. If we don’t do something with our schools, we’re just moving backwards.”