July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Highland school buildings: ‘We’ve put Band-Aid over Band-Aid’

GRANGER TWP. — With the exception of Highland High School, all the buildings in the school district are more than 50 years old. Most don’t have air conditioning, contain asbestos and don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Findings from a state review of Highland buildings were presented to school board members and the public Monday night.

“We are to the point where we’ve put Band-Aid over Band-Aid and it’s just not cutting it,” Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said following a presentation of the findings on the district’s three elementary schools and middle school.

The elementary schools include Sharon Elementary, built in 1922; Granger Elementary, built in 1929; and Hinckley Elementary, built in 1949. Highland Middle School was built in 1959. All four buildings contain asbestos and do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

A facilities review committee, comprised of parents, teachers and residents in the district, will meet regularly throughout the summer to review the state of the district’s schools and make a recommendation to the board.

“If we renovate or replace the buildings, a bond issue would be necessary,” Aukerman said.

School board member Mike Houska said the only reason the buildings are allowed to be out of compliance with the ADA is because the buildings were built prior to the enactment of the law in 1990.

“We’re grandfathered in, which is why we don’t comply with the ADA,” Houska said.

“I hear we’re not up to compliance and that sets off alarm bells,” Board President Norm Christopher said.

The schools’ security, fire and electrical systems also do not meet the recommendations of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

Aukerman said it’s cause for concern, and needs to change, but parents shouldn’t worry their children are in danger.

“We are meeting the basic building codes,” she said. “It’s just when you compare (the high school) to Sharon Elementary, they are very different facilities.”

Highland High was built in 2004. On the property where the high school sits, the district has plans to develop a sports complex. The complex only is in the design phase, but the district said the $7 million to

$8 million project would be built using a combination of money raised from community members and corporate sponsors, and the district’s capital fund, which brings in around $1 million annually through sales tax dollars.

The project would be financed over 20 years, and Aukerman said she hopes people understand the capital fund can’t fund the school buildings that need to be replaced.

“It’s not a question of building the sports stadium instead of the new schools,” she said. The levy fund brings in $1 million annually, and some of that money pays for buses and other district capital expenses.

“At $1 million per year, it would take 45 years to replace the three elementary schools,” she said.

The facilities review committee is being asked to make a recommendation to the board to either do nothing with the buildings, renovate them or to rebuild them.

Committee member Barb Dzur, a Highland alumna, former employee and former foundation board member, said the most difficult decision will be if the committee decides to rebuild.

She said the board then will have to decide whether to suggest a combined elementary building like Buckeye Schools did, or rebuild each structure.

“We still have to tour the schools and see them up close,” Dzur said. “But, yes, we’ll have to be specific if we suggest they rebuild.”

Theresa Wright, vice president of the Granger PTO and parent of six children in the district, said the elementary buildings are in bad shape, including leaking roofs that hold standing water and infrastructure out of date.

She said teachers in classrooms without air conditioning sometimes use microphones to be heard over the sound of fans that make the temperature bearable.

“Sometimes they can’t even use the fans, because it blows the papers everywhere,” she said.

Aukerman said input from parents is welcome by the board and the committee as they consider their options in upgrading the buildings.

“We have not made any decisions at this point,” she said. “All we know is that we have a very big problem.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.

A summary of buildings & findings

Highland Middle School
• Built in 1959, renovations in 1966, 1997 and 2004
• No automated fire suppression system
• No compliant security system
• Does not meet ADA requirements
• No air conditioning
• Contains asbestos

Granger Elementary School
• Built in 1929, renovations in 1966, 1997
• Undersized classrooms
• Contains asbestos
• Does not meet ADA requirements
• Unrestricted site access

Hinckley Elementary School
• Built in 1949, renovations in 1966, 1997 gym rebuilt in 2003
• Undersized classrooms
• Contains asbestos
• Does not meet ADA requirements

Sharon Elementary School
• Built in 1922, renovations in 1950, 1966 and 1997
• Undersized classrooms
• Contains asbestos
• Does not meet ADA requirements

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.