Messenger photo by Dianne Garrett
Whitehall residents Carl Werther, Sylvia Knoblauch and Jane Shannon share information in group discussions during a public forum May 14 at Whitehall Yearling High School. The district is eligible to receive new school buildings in the near future through the Ohio Schools Facility Commission. The school board wanted to hear how community members feel about placing a bond issue on the November ballot. Werther grew up attending Whitehall schools, as did Knoblauch’s children. Shannon is a teacher at Etna Road Elementary.
After hearing positive comments at a May 14 community forum, and receiving support through other gatherings, the Whitehall school board is poised to place a bond issue on the fall ballot for new schools.
"I believe you have clearly told the board to go for it," board President Walter Armes said at the conclusion of the forum. "The cost will never be less than it is today, and it will leave us with buildings for another 50 years or more. Rest assured we will listen to you through this process."
The board is scheduled to vote May 22.
Since January there have been 21 coffees in homes and businesses to hear community input. After each one, attendees were given surveys to complete. Of 207 surveys, 176 were favorable, two were unfavorable and 12 were undecided at that time.
At the beginning of the meeting Armes said, "This process will determine if we stay as we are, or move to the next level of improving the education of our children. It may also impact the type of community we will become. You will give the board the signal if we wait or go ahead."
Each table of people were given four survey questions to be shared. They asked what residents have been hearing in the community; comments or concerns attendees had after learning about the facilities in detail; should the district take advantage of the state funding opportunity, and why or why not; and would they support to move forward to a ballot this year.
Prior to survey completion they also heard comments from Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy, Mike Shumaker of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, Mike Barcus, Rosemore Middle School dean of students, and Dave Hausmann, director of facilities and transportation.
Shumaker apologized for some miscommunication on the actual cost, saying that when the board chose to take a one-year deferral to have time to go to the community for guidance, his office simply broke down in their line of communications.
Therefore, instead of 62/38 percent split in the cost between the state and the district, it will adjust to a 61/39 percent split, increasing the estimated cost of $65 million.
That means that depending on which building configuration is chosen, the highest cost estimate will be about $79 million and the lowest about $73 million.
There would be a slight increase in millage from 6 to between 6.5 and 7 mills. The upside is that the auxiliary gym will be paid off in 2012, which would decrease residents’ taxes of the 1.6 percent for the gym, according to Meloy.
Hausmann, a 20-year employee and life- long resident, said the buildings have served the district well over the past 50- plus years, but they are now showing serious deterioration.
He cited structural problems such as leaky roofs that are continually patched, a cracked foundation in one school that allows water to seep in when it’s raining, electrical service that is inadequate for the technology and heating and cooling systems. The schools are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act, doors and windows are drafty, lighting is inadequate throughout, and all buildings need better security measures.
Barcus has been a educator for 35 years, and is a resident whose daughters are Whitehall Yearling High School graduates. He pointed out that the district has served his family well. One daughter is a metallurgical engineer and the other professor at Ohio State University.
One of his biggest concerns is having a better learning environment, as well as more secure buildings.
"We have great kids, and they should have this opportunity," concluded Barcus.
School bus driver Bill Kramer has picked up and delivered children for seven years, and is a resident. He explained how much time and fuel would be saved if there were bigger schools. He said that if a student is suppose to go to one school, like Etna Road, but there is no room, it then requires shuttling them to one of the other schools back and forth each day.
The biggest concerns residents offered were for those who are on fixed incomes. However, all senior citizens in attendance expressed their support of a bond issue.
Other prevalent questions included building configurations, combining schools, disposal of property no longer needed, and combining grade levels, to name a few.
Meloy assured the group that if there would be a campus for grades 7-12, the students would be in separate buildings that would be attached to each other, so they would have their separate areas.
After inspecting all schools multiple times, the OSFC decided that it would cost Whitehall two-thirds of the cost of replacement to repair. They recommended that all buildings be replaced, which kick-started the process the board has been taking over the past several months.