North Olmsted school officials are seeking public input about closing any or all of the six elementary and primary school buildings and whether the district should build new schools or renovate existing buildings.
“Everything is on the table,” Superintendent Mike Zalar said. “We have decisions to make about how to proceed as a district and meet community needs.”
With enrollment dropping from 8,000 to 4,000 students over the last 50 years, the district can’t keep the same number of schools open, he said.
“It’s not practical financially and it doesn’t make sense in terms of housing students either,” Zalar said. “We need to strike a balance and not have some schools more crowded than others.”
Zalar will meet with parents, families and residents at each of the six schools this month to find out what they see as the district’s facilities needs. The district also ran an online school facilities survey that concluded this week.
Zalar said he expects to have the survey results back by mid-November and will discuss the survey with the school board, possibly at its meetingThursday or the Nov. 20 meeting. The district’s facilities task force of parents, residents, and district staff also will review information and make a recommendation.
“We want to see how people feel about what to do with the existing buildings and whether or not there is any sentiment for building anything new,” he said.
The district’s three intermediate schools — Chestnut, Maple and Pine — and the three primary schools — Birch, Forest and Spruce — were built in the 1950s and ‘60s and will need varying degrees of renovation if the district plans to continue to use them to teach pre-kindergarten through grade students, Zalar said.
If residents believe they should build schools, the discussion likely will include whether to build one school for pre-kindergarten through second grade and one for third- through fifth-grade students, or just one building for all of those students, he said.
That also would mean closing four or five buildings.
“People have to decide what they think can be done financially,” Zalar said. “We’re very aware that they passed relatively recently the bond levy to pay for the new sixth- through 12th-grade building. That’s why we want to see how people feel about what’s the best way to move forward.”
The district got $9 million from the state to help build that school.
The state will help residents choose to build a new school, but it won’t to renovate an old one that is in bad shape, Zalar said.
“We’ll have to consider that as well.”
Besides financial decisions, Zalar said the district also wants residents’ input on school locations.
“Do we build just the one and have it centrally located, or if we do choose to build two, and where do we place the two of them?” Zalar said. “If we use existing buildings, which ones should be kept and which should be closed?”
District officials would like to have information and recommendations by the end of the year, Zalar said. But with Linda Cleary and John Lasko leaving the school board in December and two new members coming in, Zalar said he expects a decision won’t be made until 2020.
Board member Kim Rahm said the district and residents are facing a tough decision.
“It would be nice to say just build a new building, but we’re not in a position financially to do that,” Rahm said. “We need to find out how people feel about this before we can make a decision on this. It’s going to be a lot of money for people.”
Rahm said board members also will want to know what would be needed to renovate existing buildings and what a new building would require to house district students.
“It’s not an easy choice on this one,” she said.
Board President Terry Groden said the board will wait for Zalar’s recommendation before deciding.
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