If voters agree, Chardon School District is ready to move into the 21st Century.
The Chardon Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to place a $76 million bond issue on the Nov. 5 ballot that will provide for a new sixth through 12th grade building, a 700-seat auditorium and a new stadium for the district.
It will mark the fourth time the district has gone to voters seeking bond issues for new construction. The district attempted, but was unsuccessful, in 1996, 1997 and 2001.
Board member Paul Stefanko said the measure will cost approximately $180 annually for every $100,000 of home valuation. The exact millage will be determined by the Geauga County Auditor’s Office, a millage, Mr. Stefanko said, that is expected to be in the range of 5 mills.
Before taking the vote, board members laid out their reasons for why the new facilities are needed. It is a need already identified by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which recommended new facilities, rather than renovations of the old, after an evaluation was done of the district’s five buildings. That evaluation showed the cost of renovations exceeded two-thirds of the cost to build new.
Board member Guy Wilson said the district has been talking about the need for new facilities for the last 20 years, but began the latest discussions in 2016-17. Noting the state’s evaluation of the district’s buildings, he said, it is not cost effective to renovate existing buildings and added that the needs of students is “very, very different” than when the district’s buildings were first constructed.
Mr. Wilson pointed to the high school building, built in 1951, that saw additions in 1953, 1967 and 1974. Even renovating that building will not provide the usable space that is required for today’s education and maintenance costs continue to rise for the upkeep of the buildings.
“We kind of owe it to the students up and coming to the high school,” Mr. Wilson said. “I think the time is now.”
Board member Karen Blankenship said the nearly 70-year-old high school was initially built to serve as an elementary school as evidenced by the short water fountains that still line the halls. She said looking at past year books from the 1950s, the photos show the science labs remain unchanged from that time.
“We really owe it to our kids and our community,” Mrs. Blankenship said. “My gut is saying November, also. We really need to get started on this sooner than later.”
Board member Paul Stefanko acknowledged that seeking money from taxpayers is the least popular position that school boards take with taxpayers, but added that board members are also charged with doing what is in the best interests of the children. “It’s what we need, not what we want,” he said.
He said when the state’s evaluation showed that the district’s costs to renovate are well past 60 percent, “that’s the tipping point.” He said the district will be able to construct the new 6-12 grade school on the existing stadium property without disrupting education. Maintaining the existing stadium will cost in the neighborhood of $1 million to replace the bleachers and turf, he said.
None of the district’s five buildings are in good shape, Mr. Stefanko continued, and the district’s goal is to eventually have two buildings.
Mr. Stefanko said the decision is one that every district faces about every 60 to 75 years as their buildings age. He said the district could spend the money to renovate and still have 70-year-old buildings. He said a homeowner may be able to put off a leaky roof, but eventually the damage caused results in a more expensive fix. School board members cannot ignore the district’s leaky roofs and windows because it has an obligation to provide a safe environment for students, he said.
The district needs to move forward this November with the ballot issue, he said, adding that not only the state sees the need, but so do those community leaders, parents, staff and administrators who joined in looking at the district’s needs. “I don’t see that the district has a choice,” he said. “It’s something a district has to do every 75 years. Unfortunately, time is up.”
Board member Sheldon Firem asked if not now, when? “There is a true need,” he said. He said the district is trying to educate students for the 21st Century in buildings from the 20th Century. He said Hambden Elementary was built in the 1920s and Park Elementary was built in 1938.
Board President Madelon Horvath said when she began teaching English at Chardon Schools in 1981 she was promised the district would have a new auditorium. It wasn’t there when her son graduated in 1987, nor when she retired in 2009. She said it is time for the district to have bathrooms in the auditorium that accommodate more than two at a time.
She said students and staff deserve classrooms where they don’t have to deal with 90-degree temperatures in the summer and leaky roofs during rainstorms. Today’s classrooms, she said, have more computers than text books and there is a need to bring the electrical needs up to today’s requirements.
Despite taking steps to reconfigure the district’s buildings in a cost-cutting effort and providing students with the latest technology, the lessons still take place in “ancient buildings.” She said it has been shown that students perform better in workspaces that provide natural light which is absent in the aging buildings now being used.
While the public may view the bond issue as a significant amount, she said, waiting longer will only cause the costs to go up. And, she said, the district does not have the choice of doing nothing, because the costs of maintaining the district’s aging buildings will have to be addressed and those costs continue to rise.
“This will meet our needs and bring us into the 21st Century,” Mrs. Horvath said. “The school is the heart of our community and we need to give it serious attention. It’s not a matter of do this or nothing.”
Mr. Wilson added that each year the district waits the construction costs for the same buildings now being proposed can expect to rise by 4 percent.
Mrs. Horvath pointed to surrounding school districts, all of which have built new or are planning to.
Mr. Firem said how people perceive a school district translates into parents wanting to move there, where new housing is constructed and where businesses locate. “This is not a short-term, but a long-term benefit,” he said. “It benefits not just the school, but the community.”