New buildings cost taxpayers, but supporters say benefits numerous

When the bell rings at Kenton Ridge on Aug. 29 and 30 for the start of classes, it will be the first day of school in the new pre-K-12 building, the completion of Northeastern Local School District’s district-wide facilities project costing nearly $100 million.

Nearby in Greene County, Fairborn also is in the midst of a facilities project costing over $200 million that will result in all new buildings.

Meanwhile, when school starts in Southeastern and in Troy later this month, students could be walking through the same hallways their great-great-great grandparents did. Troy is asking voters to approve an $87 million levy this November to help them access state funds for new buildings. Southeastern has no plans to be on the ballot and works to maintain its current buildings.

A Dayton Daily News/Springfield News-Sun review of area schools found some districts across the region are opening new buildings this upcoming school year or plan to open new buildings soon. This is in part because of an state support to rebuild schools, but also because many of the school buildings in the region were in rough shape.

Educators say the age and condition of school buildings impact learning. Troy has had to cancel classes on hot days because some of its buildings lack air conditioning; Southeastern has dismissed early for the same reason.

Before building new buildings, Fairborn would have to evacuate classrooms when pipes would burst. New buildings also allow for technology and security upgrades.

New technology and space designed to help students be workforce ready is part of the reason the Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center (CTC) will put a 1.4-mill levy on the ballot to help fund the local cost to build a new $63 million facility. The CTC proposal would replace its existing buildings at 1901 Selma Road with one building.

Building and upgrading facilities is costly, however, and often requires support from local voters in addition to state tax dollars.

There’s a sense among school leaders that building repairs aren’t necessarily something to talk to parents about; that roof repairs and HVAC systems aren’t as important as what the child is learning in the classroom.

But if the child’s learning is being derailed by chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling, or a classroom that’s too cold to focus, parents start to notice.

Replacing school buildings

“Our buildings had deteriorated and were not conducive to supporting our students,” Northeastern Local School District Superintendent John Kronour said.

The buildings his district is replacing were built decades ago during an open-concept school trend that required walls to be added later.

“As a result, ventilation was poor, and many classrooms lacked doors. Three of the buildings did not have air conditioning,” he said.

Climate-controlled buildings will make for a better learning environment, Kronour said.

“Better conditions in the classroom will allow for better learning opportunities. The new buildings also have more safety features to keep students and staff safer,” he said.

According to Springfield News-Sun survey of Clark County’s traditional public districts, Southeastern is the lone one whose schools were not built this century. Springfield, in the early 2000s, was the first local district to build new, followed by Northwestern, Tecumseh and Greenon in more recent years. Clark-Shawnee renovated and expanded its high school to include middle school students, and built a combined elementary school.

In neighboring counties, Huber Heights, West Carrollton and Fairborn have replaced some or all of their buildings since 2018.

Some schools are still in need of repairs, but some of them are in wealthier districts further down the line for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which prioritizes older buildings and districts with less wealth.

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission — OFCC — is a state agency that works with the Ohio Legislature to determine the order of replacing school buildings in Ohio and provides state money to help. That can be a significant boost for school districts, though it also requires a local match.

Starting in 1997, the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program, which is run by the OFCC, worked through the list of school districts in Ohio and what buildings needed to be replaced when. Most schools get some kind of state support when rebuilding schools because it is expensive to build a new, energy-efficient school building.

“While we have addressed the facilities needs in more than half of the state’s school districts, we know that there is more work to be done,” Anne Yeager, OFCC spokeswoman, said. “Every day we work with districts that have not yet been offered state funding.”

Two area school districts — Fairborn and Troy — are examples of what OFCC funding can do for a district. Troy is on the ballot in November with a 37-year bond issue to generate about $87 million for a project with the OFCC to replace their elementary and sixth-grade buildings, consolidating them into four buildings.

Fairborn passed levies in 2016, 2020 and this past spring to pair with OFCC money and pay for new elementary, intermediate, middle and high school buildings. The primary and intermediate schools have opened, while the high school is currently under construction.

New schools

The new Northeastern campus building in South Vienna that opened in 2022 cost about $42 million. The Kenton Ridge campus on Middle Urbana Road opening this year is roughly $57 million, though the final totals are not in.

For the two new buildings, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission picked up about 40% of the cost.

The district combined several school buildings into the two new buildings, moving from Northeastern High and Middle School, Kenton Ridge High School, Northridge Middle and Elementary School, Rolling Hills Elementary and South Vienna into just two buildings going forward.

Voters approved a 37-year, $79 million bond issue for the local share in May 2018.

Kronour said to taxpayers: “We are thankful for the support of our community and believe they will see the opportunities for our kids to grow and learn as a huge win for our community.”

Fairborn’s primary school cost about $27.3 million to build, while the intermediate school cost about $24 million. The high school is estimated to cost about $90 million, and the middle school is estimated at $55 million.

The state is paying about $70 million for those new schools, while the districts’ share is $135 million, raised through three levies.

Fairborn Intermediate School principal Betsy Wyatt said ongoing issues with old pipes, leaky roofs and HVAC were constant headaches in the old Fairborn Intermediate building, which was on the same site as the new building. The new building opened this past school year and houses grades three through five.

“Pipes would burst and we would be running around emptying classrooms,” she said. “Water, water everywhere.”

Gene Lolli, superintendent of Fairborn schools, said he gets fewer calls from parents worried about how hot or cold their kid is with two new buildings in the district. The old intermediate building had a barely functioning boiler, he said, that was so old the parts for it were no longer made. It didn’t work well, so teachers had space heaters in their classrooms.

Summers would be sweltering, Lolli said, and teachers on the first floor couldn’t open their windows for air circulation due to concerns about safety. The best practice to prevent anyone from getting into the school building unauthorized is to shut all doors and windows, and even inside of the school, to keep doors leading into hallways shut.

Lolli and Wyatt said the new building is significantly safer. Visitors can only get into the building through the main office, where there is another set of locked doors before they can get into the school. In the mornings, when students are streaming in from both the bus and parent drop-off, staff can watch students come in from one vantage point at the top of the stairs in the cafeteria.

It’s also an improvement for teachers, who now have updated technology and safer classrooms.

Hannah Ross, a fifth-grade teacher at Fairborn Intermediate, said there no longer are distractions for students like water leaking from the ceiling or mice running across the room.

The first time she walked into the building with other teachers, she was amazed.

“We were looking at each other like, this is ours,” she said.

Century old buildings

Southeastern Superintendent David Shea said the elementary school was built in 1969, but the high school dates back to the late 1920s.

“There’s a great historical tie for residents, especially to the high school,” he said.

Shea said no plans exist to consider seeking new buildings, noting roughly 12 years ago more than 80% of voters rejected a facilities proposal.

“Do the schools function and work? They do,” Shea said, noting the buildings do not get you “every single thing a new school would give you.”

However, he added, “Academically, we seem to do as well as anybody in the county. So academically, it doesn’t seem to hold us back.”

Troy wants to replace seven aging school buildings, with four new buildings, including three elementary schools and one fifth and sixth grade school.

The levy on the ballot in November would generate about $87 million. The OFCC’s share of the costs is about $46 million.

Some of the school buildings in use at Troy schools are more than 100 years old, said superintendent Chris Piper, and not all of them are disability compliant. It costs more than $800,000, the total amount of the district’s permanent improvement funds, to upkeep all the school buildings, and Piper said the district could easily spend more.

The sixth-grade building has just one elevator for students who need additional help getting around. There is only one bathroom for those same students.

Van Cleve also doesn’t have air conditioning, and that’s the first thing that people notice walking into the 109-year-old brick building. There are fans in the hallways, but some classrooms, especially on the third floor, can be stifling. Troy has had to end school early or cancel it entirely on very hot days.

The boiler is original, and while it heats the building well, Piper said it has other problems.

“If that boiler goes out, and let’s pray that it doesn’t, but if it goes out, there is no contingency plan to repair that or to move students to a different facility,” Piper said. “They would probably have to manufacture parts in order to repair that boiler.”

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