Northeastern ‘wastes money’ on old schools, debates new buildings

Northeastern Local Schools — the second largest district in Clark and Champaign counties — wastes money on frequent patches to its aging school buildings and needs to find a permanent solution, district leaders said.

About 250 Northeastern residents packed a forum Tuesday night at Rolling Hills Elementary School to discuss the possibilities of building new schools.

>>RELATED: Northeastern seeks help shaping plans for school buildings

“We are spending money left and right to be where we need to be and we are not anywhere close to where we need to be,” Superintendent John Kronour said.

District leaders, including school board President Chris James, said the need in the district is large. Leaky roofs, unpredictable heating and cooling units and a lack of electrical infrastructure are obstacles teachers and staff members face every day, district leaders said.

“There is no mystery to any of our community members, I think they do know the buildings are in trouble,” James said.

Northeastern’s buildings have a combined age of 254 years. The district had more than 3,300 students last year, according to state data.

Kronour presented six options and provided estimated costs and savings associated with those plans. Those plans include:

• Building a new school for every current school building at a local cost of about $70 million.

• Building two new K-12th grade schools at a local cost of about $65.5 million.

• Building two PreK-sixth grade schools and one seventh-12th grade school at a local cost of $66 million.

• Building two PreK-sixth grade buildings, a seventh-eighth grade school and one ninth-12th grade school at a local cost of about $69 million.

• Building two PreK-eighth grade schools and one ninth-12th grade school at a local cost of about $67 million.

• Building one PreK-fifth grade school, one sixth-eighth school and one ninth-12th grade school at a local cost of about $67 million.

Whichever plan the district selects, Northeastern would have access to Ohio Facilities Construction Commission funding. The state would likely provide up to 40 percent of the total costs.

Kronour asked those in attendance to make their decision based on what is best for the students.

“I’d like to see us come together and do something that makes sense for all of us and our kids,” Kronour said.

Kathy Bartlett, a resident, alum and former parent in the Northeastern district, said she believes a one high school option would be the best fit.

“I just don’t like the rivalry in the district,” she said. “I have friends on both sides. It would be nice to have one high school.”

Having a united high school would also give students more opportunities, she said.

“I think educationally and athletically as well,” Bartlett said. “I think education-wise, there would be so many more classes as far as advanced classes and for the kids that need special attention.”

Some in attendance didn’t agree with combining the two current high schools — Kenton Ridge and Northeastern. After the presentation by Kronour, the participants split into six groups to discuss each plan and their pros and cons.

Some in the groups said they don’t agree with consolidation and they wanted to keep the tradition of each high school, as well as smaller student population in each school.

However the need for new schools was shared by virtually all in attendance. Rich McHenry said he won’t have a student in the district by the time the proposed new buildings would be finished, but he still wants to get better schools.

“I have lived here all my life and the facilities are in desperate need of an upgrade,” he said.

“Absolutely we need new schools,” Bartlett said. “The facilities we have now are beyond the renovation stage.”

After the groups finished their discussions, they were asked to put stickers on the plan they support the most. Kronour said he would like to eliminate some options using the tally from Tuesday night and then conduct a scientific survey to get an idea which could pass at the polls in November, 2017.

Each resident who attended the meeting got three stickers with “1st choice,” “2nd choice” and “3rd choice” on them and each resident went around sticking each plan with their designation.

A final count wasn’t taken at the meeting, however a preliminary review by the Springfield News-Sun appeared to show that the option of building two K-12th grade buildings and the option of building a one PreK-eighth grade and one ninth-12th grade school appeared to be the leading favorites.

Every option received several fist place votes.

Regardless of what plan a resident wants, James said it was uplifting that it appeared those in attendance focused on what was best for students instead of a dislike for “the other” high school.

“It’s a lot more focused about the kids and not about the differences,” James said. “Personally I don’t mind anyone’s position or belief but at least think about the kids.

“I came from a district that had brand new schools and I know what it can do,” he said. “My heart is in this district. My hope is that somehow we can get it done so our students can see the benefits.”

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