Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Talawanda board to close Stewart Elementary

No decision has been made on students' future

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - Stewart Elementary School will close at the end of the school year when the Talawanda Board of Education puts it up for auction.

"We've been talking about it for 18 months. It's time to send the message we're going to close it," said Glenn Bailey, board president.

The minimum bid the board will accept for the school and land it sits on is $1.75 million, Bailey said.

"We needed to close it. It's passed its useful life," said board member Mollie Hansel, who has a daughter at Stewart. "We know there are problems. The roof leaks, the walls leak. There's not enough electricity. I could go on and on."

The school is one the Ohio School Facilities Commission recommended be abandoned because the cost to bring it up to minimum standards is almost as high as it would be to build new.

Twice in the past four months voters rejected a $19.5 million bond issue that would have paid to build a new school to replace Stewart.

For years, teachers have complained that poor air quality sickens them and their students. But an indoor air quality survey by ATC Associates shows acceptable readings, said Superintendent Phil Cagwin.

No decision has been made about where the 344 fourth- and fifth-graders who now attend the 74-year-old school will be assigned, Cagwin said. The board has called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at the middle school to discuss its options.

Though the board is open to additional suggestions, Bailey said variations on three options have been identified. They are:

Buy or lease modular classrooms that would be set up at other buildings.

Establish double sessions at one or more schools, where half the students using the building would attend classes in the morning, and the other half would attend during the afternoon.

Rent space from Miami University or elsewhere.

Middle-school teacher Ruth Pettitt, who worked at Stewart from 1975 to 1989, said she is glad the board decided to close the school.

"Even then, there were problems in the building," Pettitt said.

Parent Laura Jewett, who attended Stewart as a child and now teaches in the district, said she is glad the school is closing, even though her fifth-grade daughter is having a good experience at the school.

"It's a shame. I think that building's time has come," said Jewett, a 1983 Talawanda High School graduate. "The conditions there are not suitable and it's not handicap accessible."


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