|Big Walnut Intermediate School in 2012-13: Galena building closing
The attached letter is being sent home with current 4th and 5th grade students in backpacks.
When the new Big Walnut Middle School on Cheshire Road was on the drawing board it was intended to become a grade 7/8 facility, and the old Baughman Street middle school was going to serve students in grades 5 and 6. The philosophy was that serving only two grades in the new middle school would allow ample room for growth in that building, and removing fifth-graders from the districts three elementary schools to an intermediate building would also provide room for growth in the elementary buildings.
When the new middle school was dedicated last August, a decision had been made to mothball the old middle school, make the new middle school a grade 6/7/8 building and direct the savings towards programs for students. As that decision was made, Big Walnut Local School District Superintendent Steve Mazzi emphasized that he was still in favor of the district opening a grade 5/6 intermediate school at the old middle school – when it could be justified financially.
That time came Monday evening when members of the Big Walnut board of education approved a motion to move ahead with opening the Baughman Street building as an intermediate school; and as an added cost savings, board members also approved moving district central administrative operations, currently housed at the Galena building, to the intermediate school.
The decision to move grades 5 and 6 district-wide and administrative operations to the Baughman Street building would have a one-time $222,400 cost, offset by a $101,400 annual savings. Over the district’s five-year forecast the district would save at least $284,600 with the move.
Mazzi, district assistant superintendent Gary Barber, and district treasurer Felicia Drummey teamed up to explain the cost savings of the proposal during a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation, Big Walnut Local Schools Space Utilization: Proposed Building Reconfiguration 2012/2013, contained two options for addressing district buildings operating at or over capacity.
Option A, not approved, would have moved preschool and Kindergarten students and district administrative offices to the old Harrison Street Elementary School building. Option B, unanimously approved by board members, resurrects the Baughman Street building as a grade 5/6 building incorporating district administrative offices.
The presentation also showed that during the current 2011-12 school year, Big Walnut Elementary School (BWE), with a 405-student capacity, has a student enrollment of 521 (actual enrollment a.m. and p.m. is 470 due to half-day Kindergarten), and uses modular classroom space. General Rosecrans Elementary (GRE), with a 500-student capacity, serves 552 students (actual 503, half-day K). Hylen Souders Elementary (Souders) has a 407-student capacity and serves 309 students (288 actual with half-day K), plus 14 preschool students. Big Walnut Middle School (BWMS), with a 700-student design capacity, has 687 students enrolled in its first year in operation.
Barber said during the 2012-13 school year an additional fourth grade unit will have to be added at GRE, BWE is using two modular structures as classrooms, and the Galena building is in need of costly repairs.
“There’s water infiltration at the administration building, it needs roof and gutter work,” Barber said. “The decision to close the Galena building would save the district $53,000 a year alone in maintenance costs.”
Mazzi said the school district should base decisions on what would be most efficient and cost-effective.
“Folks at the Galena building cannot keep working in these conditions,” Mazzi said. “The building needs work. The $200,000 to $300,000 plus to upgrade the building would have to be diverted from funds the district needs for classroom use. In my opinion, moving to another building is a better use of taxpayer’s money.”
Mazzi said Option A, housing district preschool and kindergartens at HSE, would require expensive building modifications, still leave overcrowding in the elementary schools, and a middle school nearing capacity.
“We need to make long term decisions for the district; not just what's good for this year, what's good for the district for the next three to five years,” Mazzi said. “We need to set this district up for the long term; get somewhere now and stay there, somewhere that’s better for the district long-term.”
Mazzi and Barber both mentioned the dreaded R-word – Redistricting - but both said it’s not on the immediate horizon. Mazzi noted that the Olentangy School District is exploring redistricting to solve space problems, “… but we have a gem,” he said. “We do have space. Two or three years down the road, if we do redistrict, then we’ll have to look at what’s efficient, what's effective, and what's going to stabilize our district.”
Drummey noted that Big Walnut, due to belt tightening, is doing business differently than in past years.
“The intermediate school and administration building move would be utilizing existing staff, we would have no new hires,” Drummey said. “There would be some costs to move over to an intermediate school, but we would simply reassign current staff and have our administrative offices there.”
Removing fifth grade students from the elementary buildings would create space to move preschool students to BWE and GRE, saving $32,000 a year in preschool building rent (the old IGA building on Harrison Street), Drummey said; and mothballing the Galena building would save $36,000 a year in Galena utilities, and another $53,000 a year in Galena building maintenance.
“That's a savings of over $100,000 per year to position us to grow,” Drummey said. “It's cost effective over our five-year forecast, and it's something we can afford today to help make our levy last.”
Mazzi said rehabilitating the Galena Building would cost more that the cost of the move, but he also recognized the impact of leaving the Galena building on the Village of Galena.
“If you uproot a dozen people you uproot that tax base,” Mazzi said. “We want to work with the Village of Galena. Hopefully we can find another business to come in. But we don't want the building to become an eyesore.”
Mazzi said he was excited about the intermediate school proposal; and he likes the idea of having administrative staff working together in a facility the district doesn’t have to put money into.
“As the educational leader of the district, I believe this is the best decision for our students as we move forward,” Mazzi said. “It's education we have to think of first, not the setting. It opens space at all the elementary buildings and the middle school, and there's an option to look at locating the fourth grade there too as the district grows. The good thing is, we are not in an emergency mode to build a building.”
Lenny C. Lepola
The Sunbury News
newsguy at ee dot net