by Matthew Shepherd ’19 and Sammy Bonasso ’20
Upper Arlington community members will vote on Issue 43 Nov. 7 to determine funding for the rebuilding and renovating of schools across the district using the facilities master plan. Should the issue pass, the district will replace the current high school with a more updated building and also relocate other school structures, including the Marv Moorehead Stadium.
The idea of replacing the school seems like the best possible course of action for some. Daily, students confront broken lockers and antiquated classrooms, custodians place buckets under ceiling leaks during heavy rain, and high school officials fight to impress colleges and attract families despite the building’s aging facilities.
While understanding of these problems, others believe the plan too costly and an impediment to a normal and productive work environment. Some opponents offer replacing or repairing dysfunctional parts of the school as a better approach.
In May 2017 the UA Board of Education finalized the facilities master plan generated by community officials, community members and a team of experts titled the Financial Advisory Board, or FAB. Overall, the master plan aims to maintain the relevance and safety of UA schools for both current and future generations.
Issue 43 is a combined levy and bond issue, although it is often associated with just the word “levy.” The bond portion of issue 43 would generate a necessary $230 million for the master plan, and thus citizens’ decision this November is chiefly important to the future of the master plan and UA schools entirely.
Reasons for Renovation
Construction of the original UAHS building was completed in 1956. Although the District created five additions to the building between the years of 1959 and 1983, a large portion of the school boasts an age of over 60 years.
Herminio Cuenca, a custodian who has worked at the high school for 13 years, believes that this aging has negatively impacted the school. “[UAHS is] a good [building], only it’s always dirty,” said Cuenca, “Just like everything else, make do. But sometimes the quality of work suffers.”
The members of a master planning building team, along with a large amount of those attending UAHS, have expressed concern with the roofing of the high school. Occasionally, when heavy rainfall hits the school, water leaks through the ceilings into the hallways, forcing custodians to place bins in the halls until the problem can be fixed.
In an assessment of UAHS, The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission gave the rating of “needs replacement” to 18 of 24 areas of the building’s infrastructure, while they labeled only five areas as “satisfactory.”
Problems indeed exist with the building that most students cannot view during an average school day. These include obsolete infrastructure, HVAC systems and electrical units.
Potts did not attempt to conceal the inconspicuous issues with the building. “Behind walls, above ceilings, below floors…” Potts said, “A lot of the high ticket, high cost items that we can’t even see are reaching the end of their useful lifespan.”
Some students, such as Junior Haley LaTorre, acknowledge the existence of these issues, but believe that the destruction and rebuilding of the school is unnecessary. LaTorre said, “I don’t think that the condition of the school warrants such drastic measures… I support repairs to the Upper Arlington Schools.”
A Reputation to defend
Both the educational programs and physical conditions of a school contribute to how parents, rival schools and colleges view it.
Some of the factors that lead to a student being accepted by a college are their academic performances and the high schools they attended. Unfortunately, 80.7 percent of students who completed a Schoology survey felt that facility conditions do not accurately reflect the quality of the academics at UAHS. If these student opinions parallel those of non-students, then students could be put at a disadvantage by the misrepresentation of the school that colleges can see.
History teacher Nate Palmer’s reaction to facilities when he first became a teacher at UAHS exhibits how their condition conflicts with the school’s academic pedigree.
“I remember after I got the job, one of my colleagues, my new colleagues, was showing me around the building,” Palmer said. “And I remember thinking, when I went to the restroom, ‘What is this place? Is this Upper Arlington High School?…’ The facilities were just so outdated.”
UAHS students spend a majority of each school day in classrooms and not restrooms, so the condition of the building’s educational facilities seize great importance. Some maintain that, even in many of these places, students cannot escape the high school’s antiquity.
An “educational adequacy” report on schools in UA, completed in part by the Perkins + Will architectural firm, lists reduced natural light, few collaborative areas, and overall restricted space as problems with multiple classrooms in UAHS.
Principal Andrew Theado also has concerns about the state of the school’s classrooms, especially in terms of their physicality. He said, “A lot of our spaces are really small and not flexible enough for teamwork and project-based learning. Our science labs also need attention, especially in terms of safety.”
Those who actively attend the school express that they see less of an issue with the classrooms than Theado or Perkins + Will. Nearly half of students said in a survey only one or fewer of their classrooms seems too small for the number of students in the class, and over half gave ratings of three-out-of-five to facilities’ comfort. Also, one-third of those who answered the survey believed classrooms foster “active learning and student-centered design,” with another third saying they didn’t believe so.
The bond and levy of Issue 43 cover more than just the high school. Time has degraded more schools in the community than just the high school. For almost every school part of the UA School District, several engineering and construction companies said in a 2015 physical report that “a large portion of the building systems and materials are past their expected efficient useful life span and should be replaced.”
Therefore, the district plans to renovate and rebuild all UA schools. However, separate factors besides the condition of the school buildings influenced this decision, such as the prediction of increasing student enrollment rates during the next decade.
The concept for the master planning project began in 2014, when the Productivity and Efficiency Work Group, created for the purpose of suggesting improvements to “school district operating efficiencies and effectiveness,” branded District facilities as its “main area of concern.”
This information originates from a report which utilizes the phrase now frequently mentioned by the District, “master plan.”
The heaviest influence on the initial construction of the master plan was the FAB, as they aggregated a large amount of data and framed the plan. From then on out, though, a large amount of the planning and integration of Issue 43 and all related subjects fell to the Upper Arlington community.
The District has frequently emphasized community involvement during the planning process. In example, it has offered UA citizens the ability to join building teams, participate in online surveys, attend community information sessions and even invite the Superintendent over to their houses to discuss the plan.
The Costs of Renovation
The bond portion of issue 43 would cover $230 million of the first phase of the plan. This being said, a majority of the cost rests in the plans to rebuild the high school. In total, this plan is expected to cost the district over $142 million, totalling just under half of the around $311 million the plan is estimated cost in total. While many support the plan despite these costs, some believe they put too much of a burden on the district and the taxpayers.
To better understand the bond and levy one must first understand the concept of property taxes and millage rates. According to flaglerlive.com, a “mill” equals “$1 in taxes per $1,000 in taxable value.” Local governments establish a property tax rate in the form of mills, but homeowners each pay different tax amounts depending on the value of their homes.
Homeowners can convert mills to dollars by multiplying the taxable value of their homes by the millage rate and then dividing that number by 1,000.
In its final report, the FAB proposed a bond issue of 5.17 mills and an operating levy of 3.75 mills for citizens to vote upon in November of 2017. This operating levy would be the lowest in the district in 35 years and helps compensate for the $1,249 increase in school taxes that would occur upon the passage of the bond and levy for owners of $400,000 homes, about the average UA home value.
Pass or Fail
Should the levy pass, a large amount of construction and demolition will begin for schools across the district. Obviously, this can not be done in a small amount of time, meaning the district will need to create clever solutions in order to ensure students have a learning environment up to par with Upper Arlington’s educational standards.
Potts displayed overall optimism regarding the conceptual ideas the community is considering.. “At the end of the day we’ll have a great building for the next 50 years for today’s students and tomorrow’s,” he said.
City Council Candidate Michaela Burriss greatly advocates Issue 43. “[My husband and I] chose Upper Arlington… in large part [because of] the strong school system,” Burriss said. “It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the arts or stem education or a progressive elementary school. It wouldn’t matter who our children are; the Upper Arlington school system has the best of the best at it.”
Burriss, like Potts, recognized the harmful consequences of the Issue passing. She noted that the increased taxes would impact fixed-income citizens in particular, but still stressed the benefits outweighing the drawbacks.
Should Issue 43 fail to pass on Nov. 7, the high school would remain, but changes would be made, especially in terms of allocation of funds. “I’m assuming class sizes will go up, there will be positions that will have to be cut, and this building will remain intact,” said Theado, “We’d try and fix the roofs and the steam [leak] and the water in the basement, all of those things will have to be attended to.”
Nevertheless, the community will be the final judge of the plans. Citizens must remain responsible to make the correct decisions on the plans, as the best results will likely require careful reflection and research from every voter.
“It depends on what the people here will say,” said Cuenca, “because [the money] will come… from their pockets – our pockets – because we live here.”