AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – School Board Members of Akron Public Schools hope to make a decision by the end of the month on one of four different plans that would realign many of the district’s 40-plus school buildings over the next seven years.
Board members on Monday discussed four options that have resulted from task force meetings. Those meetings have examined the need to compensate for aging buildings in need of repairs and renovations, a reduced number of students in the district and a related decrease in state funding.
“In 2004, we had 37,000 students and we have under 20,000 students now,” said Sr. Steve Thompson, the district’s chief operating officer.
Among the plans being considered is one that would close or consolidate classes from four ‘legacy’ buildings, including Firestone Park Elementary School by June of 2024, relocating F Pfeffer Elementary School by June of 2025, relocating Miller South by June of 2025 and closing the Ott building and relocating some of the programs which are currently there into low enrollment buildings.
The same plan would include building a new North High School by August of 2027 and a new Kenmore Kindergarden-through-8th grade building, something many on the school board believe is long overdue.
“I know that there are over a 1,000 kids in (the Kenmore neighborhood) who don’t go to school in Kenmore. One-thousand, that’s a lot of kids who don’t go to school in Kenmore, so putting somebody back in Kenmore, that is attractive,” said School Board President Dr. Derrick Hall.
“If they were promised something years ago, it’s up to us to rectify that and make sure that happens,” said school board member Job Esau Perry.
The plan could also include building a new sports complex on the former Kent Middle School campus in conjunction with the city that would include a turf football and soccer field, baseball and softball diamonds and more.
“Perhaps the only high school in Akron that can rival Buchtel in athletic tradition is probably Garfield and so to not have, you know, any sort of practice facilities over there or a sports complex for Garfield High School is, to me, just a travesty,” said Hall.
Students in the North Hill and Kenmore neighborhoods would have the same facilities as students in other areas of Akron.
It would also save the district money on maintenance of the aging buildings as well as on staffing costs after consolidating some of the schools.
But it would also come with some negatives, including a cost of as much as $100,000 that the district would expect to pay off over 30 years.
“Any time you go into building closures where you are closing neighborhood schools, there is going to be students that have and communities that have grown accustomed to their children walking to school to perhaps having to bus further from their neighborhood to go to another neighborhood school,” said Thompson
“Change is difficult for people. People build daycares around where their schools are. There’s an awful lot that goes into a change of a school, not just for students, but for staff as well, so with that also comes some degree of pain,” he added.
But Thompson also told FOX 8 that the priority in each of the different options for the board to consider is what is in the best interest of the students and their education.
“Enrollment declined faster than it said it would, which led to the state pulling back funds which led to some buildings that initially, I believe, were promised in good faith but were no longer able to execute that plan to its fullest extent because the funds weren’t available as a result of declining student enrollment,” Thompson told school board members.
While several of the board members say future plans for a new school in the Kenmore community are a priority, others say they will want to consider whether there can be a hybrid of several plans that can achieve the same goal.
“We may have to look at how can we combine a couple of these options together to come up with the best option because if I was doing my own personal finance, I would be a little scared to get a loan. I know anything can happen in between, but I would be a little skeptical about that,” said Bruce Alexander.
“More students will be in better facilities and it’s probably from a financial perspective. It’s the responsible thing to do,” said Thompson.