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Athens City School District hears plans for renovation

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Athens City School District buildings could look very different in the future. The Board of Education has heard multiple plans for renovation and redistricting, from consolidating the elementary schools to building a new high school.

Last year, the district received state funding for the purpose of improving its various school buildings. Decisions for specific improvements are still being deliberated.

The Athens Facilities Master Planning Steering Committee presented three plans regarding the four Athens elementary schools to the Board of Education on Feb. 15. The committee, which was made in fall 2016, was given the responsibility of creating ideas and deciding how the district should utilize the funding it received from the state.

All three plans involve the consolidation of the elementary schools onto a single campus.

At the meeting, the majority of the feedback from community members was positive and favored the consolidation of the schools. However, the minority meet attendees was adamant about not agreeing with the plans.

Anne Morrison, the mother of a second grader at East Elementary, is against the idea of a “mega-school.” She said the feeling of a small community within the school is much more beneficial than that of a school with a larger population.

“The more close-knit environment fosters a feeling of community that can aid a student’s emotional development, and that is lost in a big school,” Morrison said. “A student who feels a sense of belonging in a smaller group takes more pride in their day than when they are just one of a large number. Large schools which are geographically removed from the families they serve tend to alienate students and parents alike.”

The Athens Board of Education, which makes the final decision on what to do with the elementary schools, is also looking into a plan for the high school as well. The board has the choice of either tearing down the high school and building it anew, or renovating what it has now.

OHM Advisors, a collaboration of architecture, engineering and planning firms, presented possible plans for the future of the high school at the Board meeting on March 28. The plans included themes of focus, collaboration and integration.

The cost of renovating the high school is a projected $26,000,000. A completely new building is estimated to be around $30,000,000, and both estimates include the 32 percent of funding provided by the state.

According to Athens Superintendent Tom Gibbs, there are some benefits to either side plan for the high school, which was built in the ‘60s. In a WOUB article, Gibbs explained the good in both building and renovating.

“The pros of a new building are that any new construction in the state of Ohio is expected to be at least Silver Leed certified, which is in regards to energy efficiency and sustainability,” he said. “We can certainly update and provide more 21st century learning environment. The pros of renovating are that you’re using what’s already there. The cost is arguably lower.”

Jenny Kline, whose daughter is enrolled at Athens High School, spoke against a new building during the public participation segment of the meeting.

Kline said while she believes integrating kids is good on any level, she doesn’t believe integration is being achieved in the high school, and a new building wouldn’t fix that.

She goes on to say the high schoolers are already divided based on different tracks within the school. If students are in advanced placement, honors, college prep or developmental classes, that determines with whom they’ll spend their days.

“So if you’re in college prep in this class and college prep in that class and not honors or AP, then you’re in with all the same kids and you eat lunch with those kids, so it isn’t integrated,” she said.

Kline continued, saying she believes the board should focus on fixing this problem before spending money on a new building, as she fears the same problem would surface.

“I would really like to see us try integration that is possible without a new building before we build a new building in the name of integration and then segregate in the new building,” she said.

The school board concluded that it needed more information before making a decision on whether to renovate or build a new one.

The next Athens Board of Education meeting will be held in the Athens Middle School on April 20 at 6:30 p.m.

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