Chardon High School Principal Doug Murray has raised the white flag.
“We’re losing the battle,” Mr. Murray said as he guided a tour through Chardon High School, built originally in the 1950s to serve elementary students.
He pointed to casement windows that can’t be closed, allowing rain and snow into a hallway and onto students passing through. Closing those windows will likely cause them to break because of their age, he said. Each February and March it becomes “barrel season” as leaks in the roof require one to two barrels to catch leaks in the halls. Two years ago, a “rain out” halted a volleyball game in the gym as leaks rained down on players.
Those crumbling ceilings collapsed last summer on the school’s computer lab. A science lab, built in the 1950s, sits unchanged through the decades as students are asked to prepare for a world that has changed over those years.
In addition, the 75-year-old building has classrooms too small to accommodate today’s teaching methods, limited electrical capacity that prevents teachers from using technology students need for the jobs of today and tomorrow and outdated fire, safety and security measures.
The patchwork of additions to the building, made during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, provide a maze of halls and staircases that most students must navigate. However, other students, with special needs, are shut out from music, choir and band classrooms that they cannot access because of the stairs.
Despite the best efforts of the maintenance, Mr. Murray said, students and staff face an ongoing battle with a building that has outlived its useful purpose.
The district has now placed its faith in the community in resolving those issues, asking them to approve a $76 million bond issue on the November ballot to provide an up-to-date school building equipped for delivering today’s education.
The 5.3-mill bond issue runs for 37 years and will cost an additional $185.50 per $100,000 of property valuation, or about $15.50 a month. It will provide an estimated $3.6 million annually for the new construction.
When the Chardon Board of Education voted unanimously in June to seek the bond issue, its members were well aware of what happens if the bond issue fails. That failure will still leave taxpayers on the hook for continuing to pay for repairs on the building.
“The school is the heart of our community and we need to give it serious attention,” Board President Madelon Horvath said. “It’s not a matter of do this or do nothing.”
Fellow board member Paul Stefanko said voters can choose to forego replacing the building, but likely will see only higher costs for maintaining the building as more of the structure fails. “I don’t see the district has a choice,” he said at that time. “It’s something a district has to do every 75 years. Unfortunately, time is up.”
The decision to seek the bond issue was not a rushed one. Since 2016, a facilities advisory committee has looked at the issue, deciding the best course of action. Their work was bolstered by a report by the Ohio Facilities Construction Committee that noted it would be better to replace all of the district’s five buildings rather than attempt to renovate them. Renovation costs would likely approach those to build new, state officials said.
The plan involving the bond issue is the most cost-effective and least disruptive for students, school officials said.
The plan calls for building the new school where the current track and transportation compound now sit. The plan allows for students to continue to use the existing school while construction proceeds, saving the cost of temporary classroom trailers.
The bond issue is one part of a two-part plan. Phase two addresses the need for a new pre-kindergarten through fifth grade building at a later time.
School Superintendent Michael Hanlon said there is evidence that the classroom environment has a direct impact on students’ ability to learn. “The spaces of yesterday don’t provide those opportunities for students today,” he said.
The old classrooms of students sitting in rows, facing the teacher, no longer apply. Today’s classrooms allow collaborative work between students with hands-on activities.
“Our district is proud of its academic achievements, but the quality of our facilities is holding you back and impacting our ability to keep up as education and technology continue to evolve,” he said.
While students would reap the benefits of a planned up-to-date facility, Dr. Hanlon said, the greater community also shares in those rewards.
“It’s a positive for the community,” he said.
Those looking to relocate to a new home will look first at the quality of education being provided by the local schools, he said. Businesses do the same as they see more opportunities in a prospering school district and a healthy, supportive community.
Dr. Hanlon said he understands that this is a “big ask” of the district’s taxpayers.
For those who may say they have no children and no vested interest, Dr. Hanlon notes that at one time the community was called on to support their children’s education and the community came through.
Chardon is not alone in seeking to bring their schools into the 21st century. One only has to look to surrounding districts to see the Berkshire District is moving forward with a new school and West Geauga is discussing a bond issue to build new facilities. Chagrin Falls, Willoughby-Eastlake and Riverside in Painesville have all moved on from aging buildings.
For Chardon, Dr. Hanlon said the time has come as well. “It’s just time to get it done,” he said.