Thursday, May 8, 2003

For CPS students, teachers, levy first step to better digs

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] At the Academy of World Languages in Evanston, German teacher Linda Hall looks at the deteriorating window frames in her classroom.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Fifth-grader Jennie McCommons can't wait for a bigger library that actually has windows, locker rooms with working showers, air-conditioned classrooms and better food in the cafeteria.

While she may be stuck with the same chicken nuggets and green beans, Jennie's other wishes are likely to come true when construction starts on a new Academy of World Languages school in Evanston in about 2005.

Students and teachers across Cincinnati were jubilant Wednesday over the passage of an unprecedented $480 million bond issue to build 35 new schools and renovate 31 more throughout Cincinnati over the next decade.

They said the election victory felt sweeter since a bond issue for the same amount failed last November by just 611 votes of more than 90,000 cast. On Tuesday, 52 percent of the voters approved the measure.

"I think it's cool," Jennie, 10, said. "We're going to get air conditioning. Now, when it's hot outside and windows are open in the classroom, insects fly in. Girls don't like bugs."

The students and teachers also say they don't like the aluminum frame windows that leak, the cracked foundation where the buildings are settling, the damp musty smell in the windowless library and the heavy heat that settles in classrooms that don't have window air conditioners.

That's all to change.

Thanks to the passage of the bond issue, Cincinnati Public School buildings, 61 years old on average, will be rebuilt, beginning with Rockdale Elementary in Avondale.

Groundbreaking for that school may happen this month, school officials said. Architectural work has already begun on some of the first 17 schools in the first segment of the four-segment building project.

Besides a computerized climate-controlled heating and cooling system, the classrooms in new and renovated schools will be equipped for modern technology with voice, video and data ports.

All schools will have science labs that are outfitted with cabinetry and equipment.

The classrooms will have new student desks, tables and chairs. Every room also will include filing, coat and storage cabinets, sinks and a drinking fountain.

Each school will have a "cafetorium," which is a combination of an auditorium and cafeteria. The cafeteria will have a stage at one end, in some cases behind a moveable wall.

Every K-8 school will have a junior high competition-level gymnasium with a wood floor and a minimum of 250 seats. High schools will have high school competition-level gymnasiums with a wooden floor and a minimum of 1,000 seats.

Most schools will be built for 650, 550, 450 or 350 students.

"The larger schools are more cost-effective," said district spokeswoman Janet Walsh. "As these new schools are built, we're taking into account demographic shifts. We'll be eliminating schools with populations too low to be cost-efficient as schools."

The district will have 14 fewer schools by the end of the program.

The buildings also will be designed to incorporate classroom pods of four to five teachers each. Several classrooms will be connected by central learning areas, where classes can work together in groups or where teachers can work in small groups with students.

"This model lends itself to the type of work we engage in today - just as businesses function with groups of people collaborating to solve problems," said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. "It lends itself to that exchange of ideas."

Teachers and students say they can't wait for the new buildings.

Linda Hall, an Academy of World Languages German teacher, said her students have asked her why they were placed in the worst classroom in their school. The plaster is chipping from the windows, the ceiling tiles are stained from leaks and water leaks through her windows when it rains or snows.

She said it's hard for teachers and students to work with sweat dripping down their legs when it gets hot or bitter cold wind whistling through windows in the winter.

"Most professionals have better working conditions than most Cincinnati Public School teachers," she said.

"We have a lot of things that need to be fixed and rebuilt," said sixth-grader Adrian Daniels, 12. "Since we passed the levy, maybe students like myself will be able to learn better."


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