Members of the Big Walnut Local School District administration and board members have examined several options for accommodating anticipated student population growth over the next several years. Last year’s failed $133.9 million, 8.3-mil bond issue that would have built a new high school, a new elementary school, and renovated the district’s existing but aging school buildings has left the district struggling for classroom space as district enrollment increases.
One option that has been discussed and rejected was mentioned by district assistant superintendent Mark Cooper during last Thursday evening’s board of education meeting; creating elementary buildings serving fewer grades – all district Preschool and Kindergarten students in a single building, an all grade one and two building, and a grade three and four building.
“We could come up with a configuration that would work, it might get us through another year, then we would be in the same situation we’re in right now,” Cooper said on April 20. “The downside is students changing buildings every couple years, and we haven’t even looked at the transportation hit.”
Cooper said with fewer grade levels in an elementary building the district would lose teacher’s ability to collaborate across grade levels, there would be furniture issues, music and art would suffer, and younger students would lose their connection with older students.
District superintendent Angie Pollock said one benefit of the fewer grade levels per building is that all district first grade teachers would be in the same building.
“But after three building moves at the elementary level, students would then have a move to the intermediate middle school for two years, then the middle school for two years, and then high school,” Pollock said. “That’s a lot of buildings for students to adapt to over the years.”
Another option Cooper mentioned was not hiring additional teachers, and increasing class sizes using existing classroom. He said elementary class sizes would rapidly increase to 33 students per room, and additional aides would be required to assist teachers in meeting academic goals.
The option that the school district plans to adopt is using modular trailer classrooms. Cooper said the district has put out a request for bids for a two classroom modular trailer to be installed at General Rosecrans Elementary School, and plans are in the works to rehabilitate the aging and currently abandoned two-classroom trailer behind Big Walnut Elementary School.
“We looked at what’s feasible for a trailer location at GRE, and there’s not many,” Cooper said. “You have to be within 300 feet of a restroom facility. There’s one site on the grass behind the HVAC unit, and another is on the edge of the playground on asphalt. The playground is a better site because of the direct line of sight, and it’s only 150 to 175 feet from a restroom, plus it’s fenced around the playground.”
Cooper said the site on grass has no direct line-of-sight from the school building and no fencing, making it a less secure option, and it’s farther to a restroom.
“We hope the GRE trailer is temporary,” Cooper said. “We would need it for around three years, even if a bond issue is passed.”
Cooper said a restroom in the trailer would add $10,000 to $15,000 to the trailer cost, and another $10,000 to $20,000 for water and sewer connections.
“At Big Walnut Elementary we’re looking at renovating the trailer that’s already there – renovate the restrooms, install new carpet, fix the gutters and walls,” Cooper said. “The in-house renovations should cost in the $10,000 range, plus we would need to reinstall technology and a fire alarm. It’s not going to look new, but it will be functional.”
Cooper said with the added trailer at GRE and the refurbished trailer at BWE the district would pick up four additional elementary classrooms.
Pollock said the need for a new high school and an additional elementary building has not gone away; that a bond issue is in the district’s future.
“We’re not going on the ballot in May with a bond issue because that would be a special election and cost the district $50,000,” Pollock said. “We need to regroup and focus on the high school and elementary building.”
Pollock said the district’s existing school buildings are older and in need of repair; that the failed bond issue had $30 million in it to fix the aging buildings. She said in addition to a reduced bond issue to build an $85 million high school and a $15 million elementary building, the district is looking at placing a 1-mil permanent improvement levy on the ballot that would bring in $1 million per year for building repairs.
“We would love to hear from members of the community about their feedback,” Pollock said.
“In May we’ll have a resolution on the board meeting agenda about the need for a bond issue, so we can get a consent from the state to go on the ballot. In June we’ll have a vote on a recommendation from the board to go on the ballot. That would go to the county auditor, and then a final vote in July to go on the ballot in November.”
Pollock said board of education members would be at board meetings one-half hour early to discuss facilities needs with members of the community, there is a Facilities Matters Questionnaire on the district website at bwls.net, and additional information is also available in the February edition of The Eagle Examiner – also located on the district website.
The location of the May 18 Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education has been moved to the Big Walnut High School Innovation Center to accommodate the Golden Eagle Award Ceremony. The ceremony begins at 5 p.m. in the high school auditorium; the board meeting is at 6:30 p.m.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.