Tuesday, August 28, 2001

School buildings show where money goes

Cincinnati Public's renovation plan in the works

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Even on the first day of school Monday for the 42,000 students in Cincinnati Public Schools, disparities in the district's buildings were painfully evident.

        Those disparities should be eased over the next decade by a multimillion-dollar renovation plan for all the district's schools expected to be unveiled in December.

        At the 35-year-old former Dater Junior High building — now Dater Montessori on Boudinot Avenue in Westwood — about 520 students walked in to find sprawling classrooms, newly painted hallways and six new bathrooms in addition to a new roof.

        The $1.7 million in renovations are a welcome change from a year ago when about 50 first- through third-graders from the Montessori program had to be housed in rented space in a nearby church because their old building on Glenway Avenue was too crowded.

        Twelve miles to the east in Walnut Hills, about 350 students at Windsor Elementary felt the burden of a 113-year-old building that is overcrowded and needs to be closed, according to a state agency. For example:

        • The playground is near a maze of broken asphalt.

        • The heating and ventilation system works poorly.

        • Classrooms are undersized.

        • Because the cafeteria seats only 70 students, students must eat lunch in five or more shifts beginning around 10:50 a.m., and they have to walk outside just to get there.

        “Kids are practically sitting on top of each other,” said Principal Leniese Fuqua of her school, which has been recommended for closure and replacement by the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

        Both facilities illustrate the $800 million to $1 billion plan in renovations that state and local officials say will be needed at CPS over the next decade.

        CPS spokeswoman Jan Leslie said the district is putting less money into schools like Windsor that have been recommended for closure because renovations would cost nearly as

        much as rebuilding under the state's current standards.

        “The state of Ohio has not put money into the facilities,” said CPS business executive Kent Cashell. “Ohio has really just gotten into the school building business three years ago.”

        The Ohio School Facilities Commission — a state agency — now is allocating $1.75 million a day in state funds to help repair and construct school buildings. In CPS, it will pay about 19.6 percent for the districtwide facilities upgrade plan the state estimated to cost $831 million..

        But with no state cash specifically earmarked for facilities before the Ohio School Facilities Commission was established in May 1997, districts have relied upon the passage of bond issues to pay for capital improvements and operating levies to pay for upkeep, Mr. Cashell said.

        One mill of a 6-mill levy that passed in November goes to building upkeep. The school district also will garner about $5 million annually for 20 years from sales tax revenue approved to build Paul Brown Stadium. A similar agreement will be reached when the Reds' new Great American Ball Park opens in 2003.

        But district officials say a bond issue failure in 1993 and an operating levy failure in March 2000 contributed to the majority of the schools falling into disrepair.

        CPS — with 75 buildings that in 1999-2000 were 58 years old on average — is far from the only district with poor facilities.

        In 1999, the average age of the main instructional buildings of public schools nationwide was 40 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

        Approximately 11 million students were enrolled in schools that had at least one inadequate building. .

        “These buildings were built before a lot of the current services were delivered,” according to Wil liam DeJong, chief operating officer at DeJong & Associates Inc. in Dublin, Ohio. DeJong & Associates, a consulting firm for education facilities, works with districts in about 25 states for planning and programming of about 100 schools a year.

        Many schools are in disrepair because they were built in an era when kids walked home for lunch, when special-education students were institutionalized, before the advent of computer labs and before building access requirements for people with disabilities, he said.

        “If you're going to build a contemporary education structure to serve today's programs, you need buildings better than those you had 40 years or 100 years ago,” Mr. DeJong said.

        Some of Windsor's students agree.

        The makeshift science room at Windsor does not have air conditioning, causing the room to heat up during experiments, said seventh-grader Tosha Richey, 14.

        “Sometimes I think it's because of the heat kids get out of control,” she said.

        Monday's heat settled in a hallway adjacent to Windsor's cafeteria as students waited in line for their meals. The Ohio School Facilities Commission, after visiting the school, cited the school's lack of ventilation as a problem.

        Dater's renovations included improved ventilation and air conditioning in some rooms that had no windows.

        “The hotter you are, the more distracted you are and the more easily you tire,” said Dater Principal Maureen Murphy-Lintz.

        CPS officials say they are trying to make building renovations a high priority.

        Meanwhile, principals, teachers and students will get by as they have for years.

        “We deal with the frustration every day,” Ms. Fuqua said. “But we'll make do with what we have until we get a new building.”


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