BGHS is old – not badly maintained; supporters of new building hope to rally opponents – BG Independent News

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By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

Now that a plan is underway to build a new Bowling Green High School, the district faces the daunting task of convincing naysayers.

The proposal prioritizing a new high school was presented again on Tuesday evening – again in front of a sparse crowd. Some of those who do not show up for public meetings or building tours criticize the school district for not maintaining the buildings as the reason new facilities are needed.

But that is not the case, according to those who have spent time in the buildings. School buildings built in the mid-1900s simply cannot meet the educational needs of today’s students.

“A building designed 70 years ago does not meet today’s needs or standards,” said facilities committee member Wayne Colvin, who retired from working in the ITS department for construction projects at BGSU. “To meet the needs of students, we need a building that will prepare them for their future.

Colvin said there is no evidence the school district failed to maintain the buildings.

“The systems were maintained, but they lost their usefulness,” he said.

Architect Dan Obrynba, along with Fanning Howey, agreed that the buildings have not been overlooked.

“There are some things you can’t fix,” Obrynba said after Tuesday’s meeting.

The high school and elementary schools were built at a time when classrooms were centered around teachers. That era is long gone.

“Buildings built in the 60s and 70s – they just outlive their usefulness,” Obrynba said.
“Classrooms have become obsolete.”

Evidence of this can be seen in every other district in Wood County – all of which have new buildings. Parents who choose a district for their children see this when they visit other schools.

The high school principal, Dan Black, gives visits to the parents, never to hear from them again. “They can go any direction and see a new installation,” Black said.

“A simple drive through” is enough for many to see that schools in Bowling Green City are trying to teach today’s students with the facilities of yesteryear, Obrynba said.

Superintendent Francis Scruci reiterated on Tuesday his presentation of the work carried out by the school facilities committee.

“We know there is a need. We can show it to you tonight,” he said.

Those present expressed concern about those who do not attend meetings to learn about the needs of the establishment – but attack the process.

“I think that’s the first step to involving the community — involving people from all walks of life,” Scruci said, describing the committee’s efforts as very transparent.

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Here is the information presented during the first public meeting, and repeated on Tuesday evening…

Bowling Green City Schools needs a new high school, according to a committee tasked with finding the best solution for the district’s aging facilities.

After secondary school is completed, the next priority is to build either one consolidated elementary school or two new elementary schools.

The proposed plan was announced on March 9 at a meeting for the community. It came after seven months of meetings with a school advisory committee made up of local representatives from business, agriculture, community groups, parents, alumni and school officials.

“We didn’t want the choir,” Superintendent Francis Scruci said of the committee’s composition. “We wanted to make sure the community felt engaged.”

“Our facilities need attention, and we had several missed opportunities on the ballot,” Scruci said.

The committee hopes that this time will be different.

“I want to emphasize that this is a community effort,” Scruci said.

The advisory committee hopes to make a recommendation to the school board in April or May. If the board decides to go ahead with a new high school, a bond issue could be placed on the November ballot.

Why now?

Dan Obrynba of architectural firm Fanning Howey listed the main reasons the committee decided the time was right to build.

First, the buildings are old in school years. High School, Conneaut Elementary and Kenwood Elementary were built over half a century ago – and learning has evolved and left those buildings behind.

Second, the marketing of schools to families looking for the best neighborhood for their children. “Parents have options,” and right now Bowling Green’s facilities aren’t ranked highly, Obrynba said.

Third, community pride, which dips a little each time a building issue fails the ballot.

And finally, construction costs, which are constantly increasing. Inflation is eating away at everything the district can do, Obrynba said.

What is the plan?

The Facilities Advisory Committee reached a solid consensus on the need for a new high school. And the best way to do that is to build the new building, maybe on the west side of the school parking lot, while the kids are still learning in the current high school. Existing gymnasiums can be kept for workout space, along with music rooms and vo-ag area.

Construction in the new space could be completed in 24 to 28 months, while partial demolition of the existing school to build a new space could take up to 40 months.

Richard Strow, member of the advisory committee and representative of the agricultural community, pointed out that a new secondary school was needed.

“The high school we have today is the same high school I graduated from in 1977,” Strow said.

But no consensus could be reached on the elemental buildings – other than an agreement that the current buildings had outlived their usefulness. The committee reached a 50-50 split on the two main options of building a consolidated elementary school or building two new elementary schools on the site of Conneaut and Kenwood schools. Crim would be used for central administration, preschool and possibly kindergarten, and students with special needs.

“It was a complete and utter shock,” Strow said of the even split on one or two elementals.

By approaching the facilities in phases, the committee hopes the public will rally around the new high school and then perhaps have time to come to a consensus on the elementary issue, Strow said.

Approximate costs?

Estimated costs vary depending on whether buildings are designed for 2015 headcount projections or 2022 headcount realities.

Here are some ballpark numbers (some taken from advisory committee data on the district website):

  • Brand new high school: $48.2 million to $58 million, depending on many variables.
  • Consolidated elementary at current listing: $34.6 million
  • Consolidated primary at 2015 projections: $47.4 million
  • Two new elementary schools with current enrollment: $42 million
  • Two new elementary schools based on 2015 projections: $50.8 million

The committee agreed by an 87% vote not to go with the support of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. This decision was based on the fact that the construction projects would have to follow strict OFCC guidelines, have potentially higher costs, less money would be available from the state than originally planned and funding would be d at least eight years.

Public and private sponsors will be sought for items such as competitive gyms, Strow said.

When do we speak?

Due to the high price tag – which could reach $100 million – the committee decided by a 65% vote that the new buildings should be put in place gradually rather than all at once.

“We’d like to move forward with high school first,” Strow said, “that’s where the need is greatest right now.”

And the elementary? This remains unknown. Officials have promised that the needs of elementary people will not be forgotten. But trying to meet all construction needs at once could lead voters to reject all efforts.

Building histories and futures

The district’s enrollment has dropped by 312 students since 2015, when the district had 2,914 students, said Shelly Ruehl, committee member, parent of three BGHS graduates and administrator of Brookdale Senior Living.

Kenwood Elementary is the oldest, built in 1953, followed by Conneaut in 1954, and Crim in 1957. The college is relatively new and would only need minor renovations according to plan. But the high school replacement, built in 1963, was considered more critical.

Ruehl spoke of the “very concerning” problems encountered during visits to school buildings. In some schools, janitor’s closets are used for instruction. The technology gaps are cavernous.

“Our teachers and administrators are really creative,” she said.

The committee reached a 99% consensus that the buildings should be upgraded.

Perspectives of teachers, principals and students

When Brynna Gaines, a senior athlete and student, travels to several other school districts, the differences are stark. These schools do not have areas where it is scorching hot or freezing cold. They have classrooms with open designs and new technologies. They don’t have areas that reek of steam and mold, Gaines said.

“Our children are not proud of our establishment,” Principal Dan Black said.

Black listed some of the shortcomings of the high school building:

  • ADA compliant, with only one ADA restroom and an elevator.
  • Scientific rooms without access to water and gas.
  • Constant leaks from the steam pipe. A changing room was boarded up five years ago after steam leaks caused the floor to collapse.
  • Teachers are trying to teach for the future with the technology of the past.
  • Room size issues.
  • Change in teaching/learning styles that the building cannot accommodate.
  • Lack of sockets in classrooms, which is a problem since all students now use Chromebooks.

“We’re trying to prepare the kids for the future, while we’re stuck in a building that was built in 1963,” Black said.

Every summer, Black gets calls from parents who are moving to the area and want to visit the school.

“When you look at the installation, it’s hard to sell it,” he said. “They can go down the road in any direction” and find a neighborhood with new buildings.

High school teachers Cara Maxey and Stephanie Conway, who are also parents of students in the district, spoke about the shortcomings of their building. The school is far from providing 21st century learning. Classrooms should be student-centered — something the current high school doesn’t allow for, Maxey said.

Teachers from all school buildings were asked to show their preferences between traditional, transitional and transformative classrooms, Conway said. They overwhelmingly supported a mix of transition and transformation.

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