After months of planning and several joint community input meetings, the West Geauga and Newbury local boards of education are now looking at how to move forward with having better insight on community wants and concerns for the Newbury schools’ facilities.
The districts’ community input facilitator, Dione DeMitro of Burges and Burges Strategists, presented the results of the districts’ brainstorming survey, which ran from May 20 to June 2, during the boards’ joint June 3 listening session.
The brainstorming survey included six open-ended questions on how the school’s facilities could be used as well as what the community would not like to see happen to the facilities. Ms. DeMitro said 171 participants responded and that results were similar to the preliminary look the boards took during their May 29 meeting.
The survey results were not meant to be comprehensive statistics on the community, Ms. DeMitro reminded the board, rather they are “illustrative” of the community’s potential ideas for the facilities.
Newbury will become part of the West G school district on July 1 through a territory transfer leaving the fate of the Newbury campus in limbo.
The results are in
During the joint meeting, Ms. DeMitro outlined that for the bus garage, the township’s use of the facility received the highest marks at 20 percent with suggestions for equipment and vehicle storage or public safety training for local police and fire departments. Use by West Geauga or demolition were both suggested by 19 percent of participants and private sale was suggested by 13 percent.
As for the front of the main K-12 school building, while the distribution was similar, suggestions gravitated more toward private sale at 27 percent rather than demolition, like the preliminary results revealed. Ms. DeMitro said private use ideas for the front of the building included residential or retail development, office space, daycares or opportunities for STEM labs.
For the rear of the main K-12 building, the results showed that people still favored the township retaining the facilities with 43 percent of suggestions including ideas for rental of the kitchen, a senior center or a recreation center with the gym.
Ms. DeMitro quickly explained, using the community suggestions, that a community center and recreation center are not the same.
“A community center was anything that talked about spaces that were going to be managed by the township,” she said, giving the example of a venue people can rent for events or community gatherings. She said a recreation center included uses of the gym for practices or tournaments or using old classrooms for clubs.
For the former middle school, which currently houses the Newbury Station of the Geauga County Public Library, a majority of participants still suggested township management of the facilities; however, this number dropped from 82 percent to 49 percent being in favor.
Ms. DeMitro said ideas were mostly centered on keeping the library at the former middle school or establishing community arts programs by partnering with existing theater or arts groups.
“There were people that talked about establishing something that was new, and then there were a number of people that talked about maybe some strategic partnerships with organizations that have already accessed the geography there, [like the] Geauga Lyric Theater Guild or Fairmount [Center for the Arts],” she said, “[Maybe] bringing those folks in to see if there was a willingness or desire to make use of that space.”
As for the athletic fields, results remained identical to the preliminary findings with 91 percent of participants suggesting the township retain the fields as a community park and making the space available for community events like farmers or flea markets or outdoor family events.
As for what participants did not want to see happen to the school property, according to the brainstorming results, the highest percentage of participants said they did not want the property as a whole go to private sale with 31 percent, followed by 26 percent who said they did not wish to see the property sit idle and become an eyesore to the community. Opposition to the township’s retention and West Geauga’s retention of the property both received 14 percent, and 12 percent said they did not want the property demolished.
Ms. DeMitro said understanding the community’s concerns with the property could make it more challenging to come to a decision on its fate because some people’s concerns were others’ suggestions.
Main themes of concern for private use of the property pointed to the development of low-income housing or another senior center in the township, she said. For the township’s retention of the property or parts of the property, participants expressed that they were concerned about the tax burden shifting to residents or the township not being able to afford to maintain the property.
Ms. DeMitro explained that participants did not want West Geauga retaining the property because they wanted access and control of the facilities. As to the demolition of facilities or the property, she said the community members expressed mainly that the former middle school has a valuable connection to the community due to its history in the township.
At the conclusion of her presentation to the boards, Ms. DeMitro opened up a second survey for residents to determine whether different options for the facilities would have a positive, negative or neutral effect on areas like the financial stability of the district, education of students, tax revenue and aesthetics, among others.
The feedback survey closed on Sunday with draft results provided to the board presidents Monday.
Board presidents Maggie Zock of Newbury and Bill Beers of West Geauga both said during their respective boards’ June 8 meetings that they received the draft results of the feedback survey, but information they had was still too preliminary to share until they had proper time to analyze and organize the data.
Mrs. Zock said that participation of the feedback survey was significantly lower than the brainstorming session, noting that only up to about 45 participants completed the survey.
Because the information to the boards was preliminary, the West Geauga board did not touch on them during their regular meeting Monday night.
Mrs. Zock, however, pointed out a few takeaways during Newbury’s meeting.
“Whether it had a positive, negative or no impact on the community, the majority of our community felt that a demolition of those buildings would have a negative impact on our community and on the financial stability of the new school district,” she said, adding that most participants responded that a recreation or community center would have a positive effect on the community.
She emphasized that these are very “raw” results and that Ms. DeMitro would help both the districts organize and fine tune the data to present at a later time.
West Geauga’s discussions on June 8, however, were focused on establishing a timeline for Newbury Township to make a decision on their interest in the property.
In a joint tri-meeting with the township and both school districts May 29, Newbury Township trustees Glenn Quigley and Bill Skomrock agreed that while interested in the property, they needed a better understanding of what timeline they would be working through with the district.
West Geauga board member Ben Kotowski said Monday that the district would need a formalized decision from the township in six months, stating this would need to include an actual plan on what their ideas are for whatever part of the property in which they are expressing interest.
“They have to show, I think, some sort of positive interest and an actual plan that they’re going to pursue so that they can bring this to a resolution,” he said.
Board Vice President Chet Ramey said he didn’t see why the trustees would need a timeline before making considerations or planning.
Board member Dan Thoreson agreed and added that they should not need six months to make a decision. “This isn’t something that’s come out of the blue,” he said. While “pulling” for the township to take ownership of the property, he said he feels West Geauga has given the township enough “preferential treatment” and should begin seeking out more suggestions or plans from other interested entities to keep options open.
Mr. Kotowski said that while the timeline should not stretch too long, he acknowledged that the district may need to consult professional services before submitting a plan.
Dr. Beers suggested creating a form that the township and any interested parties can submit that asks as guidance for what the district needs in a proposal. No final decision was made on the form.
The board members agreed, however, that the township will need to come to the district with an official plan or letter of intent by Aug. 1.
“Once that happens, then we can have a more substantial discussion, possibly with a representative from the township attending and giving us the outline of what their intentions are and what they’re thinking,” Mr. Kotowski said. “And, you know, hold their feet to the fire on it.”