Aging buildings with no air conditioning, ailing mechanical systems, leaky roofs and substandard technology are among the reasons five local school districts are seeking money on the Nov. 8 ballot to build new schools.
Xenia, Fairborn, Valley View, Jefferson Twp. and Preble Shawnee are all trying to take advantage of a funding match from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. The state program contributes a multimillion-dollar share of local projects if voters agree to cover the rest via bond levies.
The number of school building issues locally is higher than in any election this decade.
School officials say the building upgrades would dramatically improve the learning environment for students.
“Every time it rains, water is coming through certain areas of the roof and the walls into the hallways. Would that affect you at your work?” Fairborn Superintendent Mark North asked. “Or if your computers are not working, or the heating system is not working right? … It’s not a good environment for learning or for teaching either.”
The smaller districts — Valley View, Jefferson Twp. and Preble Shawnee — hope to replace all of their buildings, while Fairborn and Xenia each would address two of their current schools.
About 20 local school districts have used the state program to build new schools in the system's 20-year history, including Dayton, Huber Heights and Northmont. Since 2010, 14 local districts have asked voters to approve funding for new schools, with seven approved and seven rejected.
As opposed to traditional school levies, which often call for a five-year obligation that can later be renewed or rejected, bond votes are a one-time, yes-or-no decision to pay off school construction over 37 years.
Districts hope the state match, which often covers about half the cost, makes the building decisions more palatable to voters.
New buildings solve costly maintenance problems and can create a much nicer student experience, but their link to student performance is unclear. Some studies have linked new school buildings to performance gains in poor communities. But locally, Dayton and Trotwood-Madison remain the area's lowest performers in new buildings, while Oakwood remains the area's highest performer in 1920s era schools.
Xenia voters will decide whether to approve a 3.9-mill bond levy to replace the 1962 Warner Middle School and 1976 Xenia High School with a single building to be constructed at Ohio 42 and Ledbetter Road. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $136.50 per year.
State documents estimate the total cost at $62 million, with the state covering 46 percent. The state-required evaluation of the existing buildings rated them both as “borderline,” saying the district would need to spend 70 percent of the replacement cost to fully renovate them.
“We have space problems,” said Christy Fielding, Xenia Schools’ assistant superintendent for business. “We’re running a science classroom at the high school in an old teachers’ smoking lounge with no water supply. We have our occupational therapy people utilizing an old book storage room for their space … and the stage at Warner has been sealed off and made into a classroom.”
Xenia’s estimated repair cost is lower than the other districts on the ballot, but still above the state’s threshold for replacement. “Whether the percentage is 70, 80 or 100 percent, what that report shows is that there is a need,” Fielding said.
Xenia resident Theo Smart said he supports the levy effort because the quality of education kids get will shape the future of the community. He thinks Xenia schools has “tried to get by on the cheap” at the expense of its children.
But Liz Shattuck says the bond levy is not urgent and should be put off, since the state just helped Xenia build five new elementary schools. She said her children eventually earned advanced degrees but were not happy with the quality of the education they received in Xenia schools.
Fairborn voters will decide whether to approve a 2.95-mill bond levy to replace the mid-1950s Primary and Intermediate schools with new buildings on the same sites. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $103.25 per year.
The cost is estimated at $51 million, with the state covering 46 percent. The state-required evaluation of existing buildings rated both as "borderline," saying the district would need to spend 89 percent of the replacement cost to fully renovate them.
North said 60-year-old schools need replacement when many 60-year-old houses don’t because of heavy usage by thousands of students. Anyone who doubts the need for new buildings should “give me a call and let’s go visit these buildings,” he said.
The district’s Facebook page has seen some debate about the vote. Ginny Bryant said the students should be in more stable buildings with up-to-date features. Tim Leach wrote that taxes are too high and the district should have taken better care of its buildings.
“We went after our two worst buildings that affect our youngest children — preschool through grade five,” North said, emphasizing that Fairborn’s millage is lower than other districts. “We have other facility needs, but we felt that we had to be respectful and fiscally responsible.”
Valley View voters will decide whether to approve a 5.48-mill bond levy to replace two 1920s school buildings, a 1950 elementary and the 1968 high school, with three buildings on existing sites. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $191.80 per year. Voters rejected a similar effort last decade.
The total cost of the project is listed as $64.7 million, with the state covering 53 percent. Three of the existing four buildings received the lowest rating of "poor," and the district would actually need to spend more to properly renovate the schools than to replace them, according to the state assessment.
Valley View Superintendent Rick Earley said two buildings are nearly 100 years old, are not handicap-accessible, and are difficult to maintain because replacement parts are hard to find. Technology infrastructure needs are “huge,” he said. Asked about the newer high school, he said asbestos abatement alone would cost more than $3 million.
“We’re not trying to say we have to have this, because I also understand that people have to vote based on what their billfold allows them to do,” Earley said. “But if we do nothing (on the bond issue), we still have to do something. … And here we have a chance to get 53 cents on the dollar.”
Jefferson Twp. voters will decide whether to approve a 6.61-mill bond levy to replace its two 1960s-era school buildings with a single school at the current high school site. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $231.35 per year. Jefferson Twp. voters rejected similar efforts in 2012-13.
The cost of the project is listed as $17.2 million, with the state covering 28 percent. The existing buildings were rated as “borderline,” and the district would need to spend 86 percent of the replacement cost to fully renovate them.
Jefferson is one of the five smallest districts in the state, but Superintendent Richard Gates said consolidation “is not even an issue.” Gates pointed to “antiquated” technology and inadequate safety that “we need to fix.” He wants Jefferson students to have equal opportunity as their peers, and said the ballot issue is important for the township.
"We're in a competitive educational environment," Gates said. "When you look at younger people moving to the larger community, they're looking for schools that have opportunities for their children. I don't think anything would be more substantial to the future of Jefferson Twp. than a new school facility."
Preble Shawnee voters will decide whether to approve a 2.5-mill bond levy and a 0.75 percent income tax to replace a 1982 high school and two elementaries that have 80- to 100-year-old roots. The district would build one new elementary in Camden and a middle/high school on the existing site.
The 2.5-mill bond would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $87.50 per year according to the county auditor. Superintendent Matt Bishop confirmed Thursday that district officials used an incorrect (higher) figure in community forums this fall. The income tax would cost $375 annually for a family making $50,000.
The project cost is listed in state documents at $45 million, with the state covering 65 percent. The high school was rated in “satisfactory” condition, with the other schools “borderline.” The district would need to spend 75 percent of the replacement cost to fully renovate them.
Preble Shawnee’s situation is unique in that both the bond and income tax would replace existing taxes that were about to expire, so tax rates would stay the same as they are today. Bishop said the district has almost a full year’s budget in savings, allowing it to shift new tax receipts to the building project and still operate at the same level for years.
“Why they didn’t put air conditioning in the high school in 1982 is beyond me,” Bishop said. “Now it’s a $5 million to $6 million proposition to add it. Does it give people heartburn to have a 1982 building knocked down? Yeah, but given the deal that we have from the state, I think you’d be hard pressed to find people who wouldn’t take it.”