Construction for New K-5 School Approved

Sarah Chatta

After years of planning to revamp the Oberlin School District’s facilities, the city’s Board of Education approved a plan last Tuesday to build a new school for Kindergarten through fifth grade. A tax levy will be presented on the city ballot this May, and, if passed, the first phase of construction could start as soon as the spring of 2015.

The Board was originally looking to build a K–12 campus, but this was contingent upon funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

“Last May we found out that the funding is not going to be coming,” said Superintendent John Schroth. “Without that, it was going to be really difficult to build the whole K–12 campus at one time.”

The new elementary school represents the first phase of a greater plan to build and consolidate facilities for K–12. Financially, an elementary school is the least expensive option to build in the first phase.

“Without state funding we felt that [an elementary school] was the most fiscal[ly] responsible way of presenting this to the community,” said School Board President Barry Richard.

The state delayed funding eligibility in part due to Oberlin’s district rating, which is among the wealthiest in Ohio according to the state’s district ranking system. This ranking is determined by the value of all taxable property in the school district in relation to the number of enrolled students.

However, according to Richard, over 50 percent of students in the district receive free or reduced lunches, reflecting the 20 percent of the community that lives below the poverty line. Members of the board have been arguing against this ranking system for at least 10 years, largely because certain members believe that it does not accurately reflect the community’s economic situation. According to Schroth and Richard, the high value of property is based on the large tracts of land surrounding Oberlin, as well as local businesses that are considered taxable

property in the school district.
Since the state’s economy has been improving, more districts ranked ahead of Oberlin approved tax levies on school building construction, pushing Oberlin further down the project list.

“In 2012 they told us we’d probably get money in 2013, and in 2013, they told us it might be five or six years,” said School Board Vice President Ken Stanley.

Oberlin’s proposed tax levy provides a means of raising money for the new school without depending on state funding. Richard is confident in the Board’s decision to include the levy and feels it has a strong case.

“We vetted everything that needed to be considered, and that’s how things turned out on Tuesday,” said Richard. “We think we have a great idea to sell to the community.”

The new school would be constructed on the grounds of the existing high school football field. Additionally, the district plans to purchase 10 acres of property from the College for $25,000, a price that represents only a fraction of the land’s value, according to Stanley.

The new building would be LEED Platinum certified, reflecting the Board’s push for carbon neutrality as both a way to save money and become more socially responsible.

A significant part of the school district’s energy inefficiencies, however, are due to the district’s oversized facilities. Since the construction of the current facilities, enrollment in Oberlin schools has reduced by half, leaving the district with 100 square feet more per student than the county average. The spatial disparity of the schools causes increased overhead costs and replacing the schools will reduce this expense.

“By enclosing Eastwood and Prospect [Elementary Schools], at least not using them as school buildings anymore, we expect to save somewhere between $600,000–$800,000 a year in operational expenses,” said Schroth.

Stanley added that, because the school district has both a large amount of facilities to manage and a small number of students, schools in the district cannot afford to hire full time staff for art and music programs.

The Board’s plan will also relocate the Boys and Girls Club from Pleasant Street to Eastwood Elementary School. Eventually, Eastwood will be converted into a community usage building, and Prospect will most likely be resold for residential development.

The last time a major educational issue was on the ballot in Oberlin was in 2011 to renew levies of $4.88 million and $2 million; the vote then passed almost two to one.