Proposed Issue 3 would renovate and rebuild several schools in the Athens City School District.
Athens City School Board member Sean Parsons said the plan would allow the reconstructed schools to have buildings that would be around for 50 to 60 years.
“It is specifically for addressing our buildings where we do not have appropriate funding stream to keep up with what we need to be doing with our building, and so we’re putting this forward for the public to consider doing a long-term plan for the buildings,” Parsons said.
This levy is being done in partnership with the state of Ohio and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Issue 3 does not deal with salaries for teachers or administration, Parsons said.
The schools that are being looked at for rebuilding are East Elementary School, Morrison Elementary School and Athens High School. The Plains Elementary School will also receive a complete renovation.
If the levy is passed, the state would pay 32 percent of the final cost of the project, and the school district will be accepting the state’s money. The rebuilding of the elementary schools would begin immediately. The Athens High School rebuild would not start until the school district receives the money from the state.
If the levy is not passed, the repairs and new construction would have to be locally funded.
Some Athens residents are concerned with the cost of rebuilding versus renovating, while others are concerned with the shifting of the grade levels among the school buildings.
In August 2016, a Steering Committee was organized of teachers, teacher union representatives, school board members and the mayor to discuss how the schools should look.
The state was then able to assess the school buildings and saw rebuilding was necessary. The levy was created because of Ohio’s two-thirds rule, which states if the cost to renovate the school is two-thirds of the cost to rebuild, then rebuilding is recommended.
This committee also looked at how the schools should be organized in terms of grade levels. A few plans were proposed, and some Athens residents were outspoken in how they would like to see the schools reconfigured or how they would like to see no reconfiguration.
While this is an issue that is still waiting to be solved, it is not connected to the proposed facilities levy.
School board member Kim Goldsberry said Issue 3 is for the repair and replacement of school buildings. She said the levy is needed to do the major repairs, including replacing plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
“The school board is very conscious and diligent with taxpayer resources, we have trimmed spending in last several years, and have continually invested in buildings, so they are safe and better for our students,” Goldsberry said.
Other repairs for school buildings include clean water, heating and cooling repair, getting rid of mold, roof repair, accessibility for disabled students, cracks in foundation, and improved pick-up and drop-off areas.
Noriko Kantake, a parent and special needs advocate, is for Issue 3 and said the current accessibility for students with disabilities is not ideal.
“It's not easy to address (accessibility issues) with simple (renovation) because if we want to use (renovation) money, we need to meet the state guidelines and the state will not pay for it,” Kantake said.
New features that Athens schools receive under Issue 3 would include full-sized kitchens, easy accessibility for people with disabilities, sensory rooms, separate areas for pick-up and drop-off, full-court gyms, more energy efficiency, furniture replacement and new technology.
“We are committing to schools and investing in our local communities,” Parsons said. “This is not just about rebuilding a new structure. It is all new technology in the classrooms, it is all new furniture and all new electrical and plumbing.
Courtney Koestler, a parent and Ohio University faculty member who collaborates with teachers, said she supports Issue 3 and knows the renovations can’t happen with the current budget for the schools. Koestler said one change she would like to see is enhanced safety features in the schools.
“I'm in the Patton College of Education, so I work with many of the schools (so much) that I can be buzzed in and just go straight to a classroom before even having to pass by an office in most of the buildings,” Koestler said. “To me, that is frightening that the safety precaution isn't there. If we had the money to fix it right now, we would have done it or they would have done it.”
At the board meeting Oct. 18, Superintendent Thomas Gibbs said the Board of Education should show support for quality construction for the planned construction projects.
“If we are fortunate enough to pass this bond issue, and we go out to bid on projects, we will not accept the lowest bidder,” Gibbs said. “We will accept the lowest responsible bidder.”
According to the school board meeting agenda, a responsible bidder is defined as having experience under the current and former business names, on-going and relevant projects, financial standing, facilities and equipment, regulatory and contractual information.
Issue 3 will be voted on in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.