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Oakwood weighs school renovations; residents urge restraint

Oakwood City Schools is considering a broad range of possible renovations, upgrades and expansion for its largely 1920s era schools.

The majority of residents and students who spoke at a community meeting Monday night at Oakwood High School favored more limited renovations that focused on functionality — upgrading decaying bathrooms, replacing rickety mechanical systems, and addressing cafeteria space and hallway crowding.

Several speakers urged the district to spend more money on regular maintenance of historic schools that the community loves, rather than trying a large new building project.

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Some of those opposed to an extensive project focused on Oakwood’s high tax rates, and some questioned the need for big spending when Oakwood already is among the state’s best academic performers despite aging schools.

“We’re not considering demolishing our buildings at all,” Superintendent Kyle Ramey said. “They’re beautiful centerpieces of our community, and we’re going to keep them. But we need to do some renovations inside to keep up with the evolution of our students and with education.”

Ramey said the district could propose a project ranging anywhere from $20 million to $90 million, depending on what the community supports. Treasurer Kevin Philo said those dollar figures would translate to a property tax issue ranging from 3 mills at the low end, to 12 to 14 mills at the high end.

RELATED: Oakwood High School No. 1 in Ohio on test scores

Oakwood resident and real estate agent Jill Aldineh argued repeatedly against major spending, saying that Oakwood’s property tax burden is too high compared to other successful suburbs. She also said the school district should have asked for community input before committing $260,000 to project research.

Fellow resident Chris Williams disagreed with Aldineh on the second piece, suggesting that master planning is exactly what he expects school board members to do, so that the district is well positioned for the future.

Oakwood schools treasurer Kevin Philo said the district so far has been billed for $147,000 of a $288,000 contract with three firms for complete master planning services.

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Several other issues were raised Monday. Architect Mike Ruetschle said Oakwood could qualify for 26 percent state reimbursement on the project, but only if it agrees to meet specific Ohio Facilities Construction Commission requirements that may or may not be right for the district.

School board President Todd Duwel said Oakwood wanted to study the facility issues now before the needs became dire. He said they decided on a wide-ranging study so they wouldn’t kick themselves 10 years later for not looking into all options.

Students who spoke at the meeting repeatedly mentioned functional problems with bathrooms, hallways and cafeterias. Philo acknowledged that the bathrooms at Smith School were “horrid,” adding that the district needs to make fixes in multiple buildings.

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The school district has extensive information about the facilities issue on its web site at OakwoodSchools.org, under the heading “master facilities plan.”

Ruetschle said the project team has already talked to teachers, students, athletic boosters and others. Small workshops to explain the issue to parent and school organizations are planned for the next two weeks. Contact Oakwood schools at 297-5332 to learn more.

A larger open session to present possible project options will be held at Oakwood High School on Feb. 28, followed by another town hall meeting March 21.

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