The Electorate Spoke: School Renovation is the Best Option

Posted on: November 10th, 2010 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

Written by Bill Hart

Political candidates weren't the only thing citizens cast their vote on last week. On November 2, many communities also voted on the fate of older and historic school facilities.  I’d like to share two stories from the Midwest region, where I work as a field representative for Missouri Preservation.

In Missouri, historic schools in Vernon County, which could have been at risk for abandonment due to an annexation proposal, will remain in place.  With an overwhelming majority of 69%, voters decided to keep the school systems separate and their older schools in use.

A similar preservation victory was won in Ohio. There, the proposed levy to demolish five of Rossford’s schools in favor of building three new facilities was defeated 66% to 34% of the votes.

The Eagle Point Elementary School in Rossford, Ohio that was slated for demolition if the levy had passed (credit: The Coalition for Effective and Efficient Rossford Schools)

To prevent the demolition of these five schools, concerned citizens formed the Coalition for Effective and Efficient Rossford Schools. They believed that the walkable schools located in their neighborhoods were integral parts of the community, and that the structures were incredibly sound. The proponents of new facilities argued that the buildings (1924 high school and 1923 and 1922 elementary school buildings) were too old to be remodeled and that older buildings couldn’t be retrofitted with 21st century technology to become more energy efficient.

Also, the Ohio Schools Facility Commission preliminary assessment numbers showed renovation to be over two-thirds the cost of building a new facility. Nowadays, this is a state guideline, not a requirement, but it still led some residents to believe the state required them to go with the new facility in order to be reimbursed by the state agency.

So, advocates in both Ohio and Missouri gave many reasons for saving the historic school buildings in these communities.

Newer is not always better. Old age does not undermine an older school building; lack of maintenance does. Studies have shown that it is almost always less expensive to renovate an existing building than to build a new one. Up to 25% of a new school building’s cost is in the building’s shell, not to mention the investment in land and improvements to the land to construct a new school campus. Renovation is the ultimate in “green” building practice.  It contains sprawl and saves on valuable building materials that would otherwise be dumped in our landfills.

Bigger is not always better. It has been shown time and time again that lower class sizes usually produce better test scores. Studies have proven that at some grade levels lower student/teacher ratios correlate to higher mathematics scores. At the eighth grade, it has been shown that lower student/teacher ratios improve the school social environment, resulting in higher achievement.

Caption: If voters had not voted against the new facility, the architecturally rich Rossford High School was one of five schools that would have been demolished (credit: The Coalition for Effective and Efficient Rossford Schools)

Consolidation means loss of community. For students and parents alike, the school is a center of civic life.  It is where we vote, attend PTA meetings, take advantage of continuing education opportunities, and hold community events. It costs us our identity and feeling of safety, and will usually cost much more in transportation costs. Time used in getting to and from school is increased, and takes away from homework and physical exercise.

In Missouri, advocates will help the school district find other examples where older schools have been successfully adapted for modern purposes. In Ohio, now that the levy was defeated by almost two-thirds of the vote, the advocates are developing a plan to present to the Board of Education at their next meeting. It outlines a community-led process for developing a new master plan, suggests a new maintenance plan with dedicated funds for school facilities, and proposes an immediate energy analysis to provide detailed information on the state of the existing building to the community.

These studies may also lead the way towards potential improvements through the state’s energy-efficiency program known as Ohio HB 264, as part of a new Master Plan. The HB 264 program allows school districts to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and use the cost savings to pay for those improvements.  “In this one limited instance, school districts can borrow funds without having to pass a ballot issue … to borrow.”

So now that you heard these stories, why don’t you share how schools fared in the voting booths in your community?

Bill Hart is a Field Representative for Missouri Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He is based in St. Louis, Missouri and would love to learn more about what was decided about older and historic schools in your community on November 2.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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3 Responses

  1. Tyler Davis

    November 10, 2010

    SO glad to hear about the victory in Ohio – the situation in that state in regard to losing historic schools is DIRE. FINALLY some positive news!

  2. Steve Wayne

    November 10, 2010

    As a resident of Rossford, OH and a member of the Coalition for Effective and Efficient Rossford Schools I am very pleased this particular levy was defeated. My two sons went to Eagle Point Elementary over 20 years ago and they loved going there. I enjoy having the school 4 blocks from our home and watching the kids walking to and fro, and often accompanied by parents. It contributes to the fabric of the community.

    I have never voted against a school levy in the 33 years of living in Rossford, but this one had to be defeated. Demolishing 5 school buildings and constructing 3 new ones by passage of a 5.99 mil levy for 37 years was out of question. In addition, the school district has several million dollars in reserve, but have neglected maintaining the facilities properly for years.

    I am very hopeful we can help develop a new plan to improve the schools and bring them more up to date technologically than they already are while maintaining that “fabric of the community”.

  3. Judy Sikorski

    November 12, 2010

    Having lived here all of my life…which is 50+ years, I thought I had seen it all. But when the Facilities committee came up with a plan to bulldoze every school in town….I was beyond shocked. In a town where we have zero debt and in this day and age to take Rossford near possible bankruptcy was not in the best interest of this community. I have never fought against a levy in my life, nor have I ever voted against one…but this needed to be stopped. No one seems to realize that the Senior citizens in this community have already paid for these schools once and with the economy the way it is…they just can’t afford to do it again. It made me angry when they kept saying that it was a mere 50 cents a day. Hogwash!!!! That was just the beginning and we all knew it! We may be Seniors citizens …(yes, I am one too) but we aren’t blind, stupid or senile!! We know what “over-rides” are and we know what happens when bids are to low and the costs keep rising. We also know who gets the bill for all of this when the dust settles! So back to the drawing board and let’s come up with something we can all live with. I want our kids to have the best too…but it begins with the parents and our teachers…not with brick and mortar.