Friday, July 05, 2002

School planning process under way

Middletown hires two consultants

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

        MIDDLETOWN — Consultants will spend the next six to eight months working with Middletown City Schools' educators to determine what the community wants to see in a facilities plan.

        Architects Steed-Hammond-Paul Inc. and Burges & Burges Strategists will team up to conduct focus groups, scientific phone surveys and community meetings to determine what the Middletown residents want and would support financially. A final plan might differ from a $143 million one proposed six months ago that included construction of seven new schools and demolition or closing of others.

        That plan was approved by the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) and was endorsed by the Business Education Community Collaborative and the School Finance Committee, which helped put it together. Since then, the OSFC has expressed willingness to work with districts to come up with a plan that meets with community wishes, said Stephen Schwandner, of Steed-Hammond-Paul.

        “We know that this approach works,” Mr. Schwandner said of the 12-year-old Schoolhouse of Quality process. It is the same process several Southwest Ohio school districts — including Fairfield and Lakota — have used when constructing new schools.

        “Doing nothing is not an option,” said Dr. Mark Frazer, president of the Middletown Board of Education. “This is the piece that will provide the objective data.”

        Parents, teachers, students, residents, business owners, elected officials and others will come together in focus groups or for in-depth individual interviews. Those would be followed by phone surveys of community members and written surveys of students and teachers.

        Eventually, designs for schools would be prepared and tested through community meetings.

        “The biggest thing I've heard is people don't care what the state says, they want a community plan,” said board member Rev. Greg Tyus, who also expressed concerns about making sure those selected for focus groups and surveys represent all segments of the community.

        Mr. Schwandner said the firms' work would be finished by late January or February so the board would have time to approve a plan and set a May 2003 bond issue if it so desired.

        The cost to the district is $124,500 plus expenses.


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