Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Adamowski: Replacing buildings a 'no-brainer'


He's expected to back spending $900 million-plus

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Water damage from a broken water heater buckled floorboards at Lafayette Bloom Middle School in the West End. The school, built in 1915, should be replaced, the state says.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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        Cincinnati should spend more than $900 million to shut dozens of rundown public schools and rebuild from the ground up, Superintendent Steven Adamowski is expected to say today.

        Mr. Adamowski's recommendation comes as the school board begins weighing a decision that could result in the biggest school building boom in the district's history.

        The board can choose to accept $200 million in state money to replace an as-yet-unknown number of school buildings. The state reported last year that 61 of the district's 76 schools are so substandard that mere overhauls would be wasteful.

        The actual number of schools that might be replaced is still in negotiation. But if the board decides to work with the state, some neighborhood schools are certain to close for good.

        Many others would be replaced. Students would be moved around as schools are rebuilt. And a hefty bond issue would be needed to finish the $900-million-plus job the state money would start.

[photo] At Withrow High, roof repairs are under way. The state recommended $34.1 million in renovations.
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        “It's a no-brainer” to replace schools that were built decades ago and lack modern electrical, heating and roofing systems, Mr. Adamowski says. The quality of the region's largest school system affects the skills of future workers and the ability to attract businesses to Greater Cincinnati, school supporters say.

        Yet the school board could choose a less drastic route.

        It could decide to forego replacing numerous schools recommended by the state. It could opt for more renovations instead, funding the work on its own.

        For residents of Cincinnati, it's a question of when and how their crumbling city schools will be fixed and how much it will cost. Similar decisions have been or will be made in every one of Ohio's 612 public school districts over the next 10 years.

        “Cincinnati public school buildings have been a chronic problem for the last 20 years,” Mr. Adamowski said. “Our students deserve the same types of school buildings students enjoy in other parts of the state.”

PUBLIC HEARINGS
    Cincinnati Public Schools will hold 12 forums to hear from the public on building proposals. Those meeting dates are:
    • Jan. 15: North Avondale Community Center, 617 Clinton Springs Ave., 7-9 p.m.
    • Jan. 16: Roberts Paideia, 1700 Grand Ave., 7-9 p.m.
    • Jan. 17: Western Hills High School, 2144 Ferguson Road, 7-9 p.m. p.m.
    • Jan. 22: Jacobs High School, 5425 Winton Ridge Lane, 7-9 p.m.
    • Jan. 23: Woodward High School, 7001 Reading Road, 7-9 p.m.
    • Jan. 24: Taft High School, 420 Ezzard Charles Drive, 7-9 p.m.
    • Jan. 29: Hartwell School, 8320 Vine St., 7-9 p.m.
    • Feb. 5: Heinold, 2240 Baltimore Ave., 7-9 p.m.
    • Feb. 6: Clark Montessori, 3030 Erie Ave., 7-9 p.m.
    • Feb. 7: Walnut Hills High School, 3250 Victory Parkway, 7-9 p.m.
    • Feb. 12: Mayerson Academy, 2650 Highland Ave., 7-9 p.m.
    • Feb. 14: Withrow High School, 2488 Madison Road, 7-9 p.m.
        When the school board meets today, it will begin to consider an assessment of school buildings made by the Ohio School Facilities Commission last year.

        Some 4,000 pages document multimillion-dollar problems including aging roofing, heating, electrical, plumbing and security systems in the vast majority of school buildings.

        The state said almost every school needs to remove hazardous asbestos from tiles, insulation and other nooks. All but seven schools need new heating and cooling to meet state standards; 40 schools need new roofs, the state said.

        At Sands Montessori in the West End, teachers have reported ceiling plaster falling on students during class. Older heating systems in many schools fail to circulate enough fresh air, creating havens for colds and viruses, experts say.

        The heating system at the Academy of World Languages in Evanston was installed the same year President Kennedy confronted the Cuban missile crisis. Despite frigid cold this week, some teachers cracked open windows and temperatures still reached 80 degrees in rooms where kids worked.

        “It makes them sluggish,” teacher Mary Mullins says. “But if I had any big complaint, it's the noise of the heater.”

        Mike Burson, director of city school facilities, says school buildings meet state safety codes.

        “I don't think from a safety standpoint anyone should feel threatened in our buildings,” he says. “But is it enough to say the buildings are safe?”

        The state campaign to improve Ohio school buildings began four years ago after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to find money to rebuild rundown schools.

        The state will assess schools in every district by 2012 and offer funding to those that reach agreement on which buildings need replacing or renovating.

        There is room for negotiation. But basically, the state says a building should be replaced if its projected renovation would cost two-thirds of the cost to build new.

        More than half of Ohio districts have received more than $1 billion in state aid in the past four years for rebuilding projects. They include four districts in the Greater Cincinnati area: New Miami, Bethel-Tate, Goshen and Felicity-Franklin.

        In Cincinnati, the seven school board members agree that crumbling schools need work. But some don't know what to make of the state's assessment, and they question whether taking the $200 million is worth all the state's demands.

        “I have some questions before I support it,” board member Florence Newell says. “We must first deal with the buildings to make sure they are warm, safe and dry and not overcrowded.”

        Dr. Newell says the district may be able to accomplish that without the state funding.

        Mr. Adamowski insists that students and classes would not be greatly disrupted if massive school replacement begins. Most students would stay at their schools until new schools are complete, he says.

        The superintendent also says that negotiations with the state will result in fewer than 61 schools being replaced. He wouldn't be more specific.

        Questions are bound to arise, though, over closing some schools that have been around for nearly a century or that have strong sentimental value or historic appeal.

        Lafayette Bloom Back on Track Accelerated Middle School in the West End is one example. The state named it last year as a school that would be too costly to renovate.

        Yet Bloom, built in 1915, showcases a Second Renaissance Revival style with its arched opening, supporting columns and elaborate terra cotta trim. The design was popular for schools during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

        Rothenberg Elementary, built in 1913, makes do with 40-year-old steam boilers, bathrooms in the basement and nonexistent playground equipment. Yet the four-story collegiate Tudor building that towers in Over-the-Rhine has a strong following.

        “I don't think it needs to be replaced, it needs to be redone,” says Over-the-Rhine resident Michelle Dean. She and her four children all went to Rothenberg. “But they need to do it bad.”

        Beth Sullebarger, executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association, says the city seems willing to preserve buildings that are truly historic. She thinks the school board should take the state money as long as it saves a few more buildings than the state recommends.

        “Only 11 of the 61 are worth saving,” Ms. Sullebarger says. “I believe they will be saved. The rest are not.”

        Any decision from the school board will have to be made by June if the district wants to receive state funding this year.

        In the meantime, board members plan to seek public input at 12 hearings scheduled through February.

        That's as it should be, says Kelley Carey, a national school planning consultant based in South Carolina. He says city schools absolutely should work with the state and should have involved parents and citizens sooner.

        “Why can we not take the time and show the patience to respect (the public's) ability to make good suggestions, while a plan for so many schools is being developed?” he said.

Reports on schools

    Aiken High School
    Anderson Place Elementary
    Academy of World Languages
    BondHill Academy
    Bramble Academy
    BurtonElementary School
    CarsonMontessori School
    Carthage Paideia Academy
    Central Fairmount Elementary School
    Chase Elementary School
    Cheviot Elementary School
    Clark Montessori
    Clifton Elementary School
    College Hill Elementary School
    Covedale Elementary School
    Crest Hills Year-Round School
    Dater High School
    Douglas Elementary School
    EasternHills Elementary School
    Eastwood Paideia School
    FairviewGermanLanguage School
    GambleElementary School
    Hartwell Elementary School
    Hays-Porter Elementary School
    Heberle Elementary School
    Heinold Elementary School
    Hoffman Elementary School
    Hughes Center
    Hyde Park School
    Jacobs Center
    Kilgour Elementary School
    Kirby Road Elementary School
    LafayetteBloomBack-on-TrackAcceleratedMiddle School
    Linwood Elementary School
    Losantiville Elementary School
    McKinley Elementary School
    Midway Elementary School
    Millvale Elementary School
    Mt.Airy Elementary School
    Mt.Washington Elementary School
    North Avondale Montessori School
    North Fairmount Elementary School
    Oyler Elementary School
    ParhamElementary School
    Pleasant Hill Elementary School
    Pleasant Ridge Elementary School
    Quebec Heights Elementary School
    Roberts Paidei Academy
    Rockdale Paideia Academy
    Roll Hill Elementary
    RoselawnCondon Elementary School
    Rothenberg Elementary School
    Sands Montessori School
    South Avondale Elementary School
    Sayler Park Elementary School
    Schie lPrimary School
    Schwab Elementary School
    School for Creative and Performing Arts
    Shroder Middle School
    Silverton Paideia School
    Swifton Primary School
    Taft High School
    Taft Elementary School
    Vine Elementary School
    Walnut Hills High School
    Washburn Elementary School
    Washington Park Elementary School
    Western Hills High School
    Westwood Elementary School
    Whittier Elementary School
    Windsor Elementary School
    WintonMontessori School
    Winton Place Academy
    Withrow High School
    Woodford Paideia School
    Woodward High School



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