Oakwood proposals range from fixes to new schools, but both are costly

Oakwood school officials presented seven school facility options to residents Wednesday, ranging from a comprehensive renovation of all existing facilities at $48 million, to $102 million for those renovations plus a new high school and early learning center building.

The 200-person community meeting stretched more than three hours – going over spreadsheets and building diagrams, breaking into small-group discussions, and firing questions at Superintendent Kyle Ramey and others.

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“We have beautiful old buildings. We know that, and we want to preserve them and pass them along to the next generation,’ Ramey said. “They continue to serve us well, but we have a responsibility to leave them better than we found them.”

The seven options mixed and matched a variety of proposals in different ways, but there are two big changes in some of the plans. One is construction of a new high school plus performing arts and gym space where Mack Hummon Stadium stands today, with a new football stadium being built just east where the baseball field is today.

The other big proposal in some project options is discontinuing use of the Lange School on Dorothy Lane and constructing a two-story early learning center between Smith Elementary and the Wright Library. The proposals include moving certain grade levels to new buildings.

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Finances were a major focus of the evening. Even the cheapest option the district listed had an estimated property tax cost of $264 per year for a $100,000 home, for 37 years. That renovation option would include extensive replacement of school heating, plumbing, lighting and electrical systems, as well as roofs, windows and more.

Several residents questioned the price tags, wondering if that level of investment was necessary for a district that is the highest academic performer in the region in their current 1920s-era buildings.

“I did ask for another option that, for now, that the bare minimum things are taken care of,” Oakwood parent Mayumi Hall said. “I think we’re trying to spend money that we don’t have. I don’t want the community to change. I don’t want to drive people away.”

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Ramey said the money could come from some mix of new bond or permanent improvement levies, private donors, or state facility funding (if Oakwood qualified and agreed to the strings that come with it). The listed price tags assume all local funding.

Other residents encouraged the school district to plan aggressively for future generations, increasing classroom size to state standards and adding space for performing arts and student collaboration.

“Some of these are band-aids to solve a problem, which we should definitely do at the bare minimum,” said Oakwood parent Sam Dorf. “But this is a great opportunity for us to really grow — to imagine the school rooms and learning spaces for the future.”

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Asked whether those bigger, more flexible classrooms really mattered when Oakwood students were already succeeding academically, school board member Cassie Darr said it would allow teachers to do more of the small-group and project-based work that colleges and employers are focusing on.

In small-group sessions, residents were concerned about potential loss of green space for new buildings, classroom size and student count, as well as traffic and parking issues.

Jill Aldineh, a vocal opponent of major changes, said with enrollment not projected to grow, significant spending is a mistake, especially with Oakwood tax rates already very high. She argued that the district has not been open enough about its plans and finances.

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Oakwood parent James O’Hara had a different outlook, saying he loved that the district is presenting lots of data at public meetings and on its website.

“We need data, we need information, we need to be able to know what’s possible,” O’Hara said. “I love the setting we have here tonight, where we’re learning and being involved as a community, and we’re a part of it together.”

Ramey said the school district will have a town hall meeting about the various facilities options March 21 at Oakwood High School. Eventually, the school board will decide whether to put a levy or bond issue on the ballot, in November or some future election, and at what millage depending on community input.

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