AKRON Some tough decisions are ahead for members of the Akron City Schools Board of Education and Superintendent David James.
During the June 20 joint meeting between the school board and Akron City Council, several options were presented for the schools that have not been touched by a 2002 building plan to turn the schools into community learning centers (CLC).
The original $774-million plan stated 58 schools would be rebuilt or remodeled. A drop in students has made school officials look more closely at the plans as enrollment declined from 31,669 in 2002 to 21,229 in 2016.
Currently, 29 buildings have been completed, two are under construction and two are in design. There are eight buildings - including Garfield, North and Kenmore high schools - that have not been touched.
The district estimates they have between $160 million and $165 million in remaining projects that need to be completed in the district. The problem, however, is the district has only $25 million left with a $25 million match from the state of Ohio.
Akron Public Schools School Board Vice President Patrick Bravo said the state will not partner to match funds for any remaining elementary or middle schools built individually. He said the money has to be used for high schools only or a building which combines a middle school and a high school together.
Other schools that remain untouched by construction include Roswell Kent Middle School, Firestone Park Elementary, Miller South, Bettes Elementary and Pfeiffer Elementary.
With money running out, the board and school administrators are being forced to make some critical decisions. Bravo said the options being presented are informational only and no action or final decision has been made.
In addition to dropping enrollment, Akron Public Schools have seen increasing construction costs compared to when the projects started. It cost the district $160 per square-foot in 2012 compared to $243 per square-foot today.
James presented five different options for the district moving forward, which includes rebuilding several schools and combining and closing others. Throughout all the options, Ellet High School is not impacted.
The options being reviewed:
Combine Kenmore High School into Buchtel CLC; build a new Garfield High School; North High School will move into Jennings CLC as a Bio-Med Academy; combine Innes and Perkins middle schools; Pfeiffer Elementary gets rebuilt or is closed and students redistricted; close Bettes Elementary and Firestone Park Elementary; close Roswell Kent Middle School; Robinson CLC becomes a sixth grade academy and Helen Arnold is converted to Miller-South.
Combine Buchtel CLC into Firestone CLC; make Buchtel CLC a seventh and eighth grade school; Kenmore High School moves to Innes Middle School; North High School will move into Jennings CLC as a Bio-Med Academy; Helen Arnold becomes the sixth grade academy; Pfeiffer Elementary gets rebuilt or is closed and students redistricted; East CLC becomes a seventh and eighth grade middle school; close Bettes and Firestone Park Elementary; close Roswell Kent Middle School and build a new Garfield High School.
Combine Buchtel CLC into Firestone CLC; make Buchtel CLC a seventh and eighth grade school; Kenmore High School moves to Innes CLC; Helen Arnold becomes the sixth grade academy; Pfeiffer Elementary gets rebuilt or is closed and students redistricted; North High School is merged into East CLC; close Bettes Elementary and Firestone Park Elementary; rebuild Roswell Kent Middle School in the future and build a new Garfield High School.
Combine Kenmore High School into Buchtel CLC; Inness CLC becomes a school for sixth through eighth grade students; Pfeiffer Elementary gets rebuilt or is closed and students redistricted; North High School is merged into East CLC as a Bio-Med Academy; close Bettes Elementary and Firestone Park Elementary; rebuild Roswell Kent Middle School in the future and build a new Garfield High School.
Combine Innes CLC and Roswell Kent Middle School; Pfeiffer Elementary gets rebuilt or is closed and students redistricted; North High School is merged into East CLC as a Bio-Med Academy; close Firestone Park Elementary; Bettes Elementary is merged into the new Jackson-Harris CLC and build a new combined Garfield and Kenmore high school.
All five of the options have Firestone Park Elementary School closing, and that doesn’t sit well with Akron Ward 7 Councilman Donnie Kammer.
"A closure of any school would be devastating to our community, especially Firestone Park Elementary because it is a landmark and is in a position that serves the community and is the backbone of the Aster Avenue business district along with the library, community center and churches," Kammer said.
Kammer said he hopes the board will consider the historical significance of the building, which is turning 100-years-old next year.
"I know we really have to make some tough decisions," Kammer said.
James said he plans an aggressive timeline to finish the remaining schools and said planning with each community for the remaining buildings could begin as early as January.
QUESTIONS FROM COUNCIL
Akron City Council presented the school board with plenty of questions following the five options being presented.
Kammer asked if any of the residents in attendance would be permitted to speak. Bravo said there would be no public comment period.
Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal Jr. said he believes the city and schools are conceding when it comes to keeping students in Akron Public Schools.
"We need to find out why our neighbors are not going to our schools," Neal said.
He also raised concerns about transportation if certain buildings were to close. Neal also asked about construction costs and the fact several high schools and middle schools have already been built for less than $40 million, but the new Firestone/Litchfield CLC is expected to cost more than $80 million to complete.
"I just need help to understand these numbers," Neal said.
James said the reason the new Firestone building cost so much is because it has a pool and a performing arts auditorium.
Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Kilby raised questions about renovating buildings instead of rebuilding them. He also presented concerns about Akron losing approximately 600 students to Coventry Schools.
Board member Tim Miller said putting a band aid on an old building doesn’t make sense to him. He also said it is important that Akron maintain the clusters of schools, and that is the plan moving forward.
"I wish we operated on a if we build they will come," Akron School Board Member Lisa Mansfield said.
Bravo said the options presented are fluid and there could be changes made to them as final decisions are made. He also said there has been interest for the school board and city council to meet again in the future.