New 5-8 Grade Building Makes the Cut

A new facilities plan detailing construction of a new building on the middle school site was chosen out of two options


Emet Celeste-Cohen

A group discusses one option for a master plan at a previous meeting in the upper cafeteria.

After six community meetings, a vote revealed that a new 5-8 building on the current middle school site is the community’s preferred choice. The vote came as the district held one last community forum on Thursday in anticipation of April 12, when the Board of Education will present a facilities master plan to the state.

As the nearly 90 soon-to-be participants entered the upper cafeteria April 7, they were given a handout directing them to consider the two options: a new 7-8 middle school or a new 5-8 grade, two-winged “campus.”

A third plan, to just renovate each building voted on — along with the other ideas — in a meeting prior to Thursday’s, was not one of the options, even though only 7 percent of attendees opposed it.

The handout instructed participants to weigh the advantages of both options in five areas: instructional, operational, extracurricular, financial and swing space — or places to keep students during construction. The presenters focused almost exclusively on the financial aspects of each plan.

Though the numbers in almost every slide of the presentation were too small to read, they were very informative. One slide detailed the cost of each facet of each plan to the last cent: option one — the new middle school — is estimated to cost $109,704,652.02; option two — the new 5-8 grade campus — would cost $127,815,091.77.

The new middle school or new 5-8 grade building alone would not receive all of the money. Instead, each option is packaged with several other smaller improvements. Most of them are the same throughout — buy new technology, repair athletic fields and K-4 buildings, renovate the high school — but some are not.

One option-two improvement stands out: “Renovate Woodbury as administrative building and recreation center: $21,600,000.” If the fifth- and sixth-graders were to move to a new building, many participants were unsure of what to do with the Woodbury building, a Shaker landmark.

The $21.6 million decided on by the consultants would be split among several different uses. Demolishing the current administration building for more parking is expected to cost $392,080.  Relocating IT offices is valued at $672,800. The largest true renovation — apart from “selective updates” like new roofing — would be turning the Woodbury pool area into a community fitness center. The $994,120 would be spent on turning the “band room to weight and cardio room” and the “orchestra room to an open group fitness space.”

One final notable change is the relocation of the security office — depicted on the slide as accommodating one or two people — to the 2,300 square feet of the entire second floor of the school.

Finally, the discussion moved past cost with a slide that listed four districts that have buildings similar to 5-8 grade facilities. North Olmsted, North Ridgeville, Cleveland Heights-University Heights and Wadsworth City Schools made up the list. None of them has a 5-8 building — though North Ridgeville has plans for a 3-8 grade facility sometime in the future.

Paul Garland, managing director of Legat Kingscott, explained that the schools are similar in different ways. “They are similar in the sense that they are mixing elementary and middle school students in the same building,” he said.

Interim Principal James Reed III, who was an administrator at a Cleveland Heights middle school more than a decade ago, thought the 6-8 grade setup that district uses is satisfactory. “It worked pretty well” he said. But he warned against the multiple middle school system that Cleveland Heights uses.

“It was a nightmare. The athletics, the clubs; a disaster,” he said.

The consultants laid out a time frame for the construction. Building a new middle school or 5-8 grade facility with a new pool and auditorium, renovating the high school, repairing elementary schools and athletic fields would come with the first segment of the 10 years. Only after that is complete would renovating the elementary schools and Woodbury begin.

After an 80-minute presentation, they asked the crowd if there were any questions before voting time. Sylvester Moore, frequent attendee of the meetings and high school friend of Reed, raised his hand. “Where are we going to get the money for a project like this?” he asked.

The state will pay for 24 percent of all costs relating to educational upgrades that fit within their guidelines — if the district makes the deadline of April 12 to present a plan — but the rest will be paid for through property taxes. One consultant roughly estimated that Shaker’s property tax would increase $250 for a $100,000 house over time. Shaker’s property tax is already the highest in the state.

Parents asked how their fifth-graders would learn in a school with eighth-graders. “The buses, they are together unsupervised for a long time. It could be a problem,” said one participant.

Another person agreed. “Trust me, I was a former bus driver,” she said. “You do not want to put those kids together.” Though Annette Tucker Sutherland, BOE member, could not put any fears to rest, she said it is unlikely that fifth- and sixth-graders would share buses with seventh- and eighth-graders.

With most of the questions answered, participants were given green stickers to place on the paper depicting the option they preferred.

“Where do we put the sticker if we don’t like either option?” asked a participant. “Like, above maybe?” No answer was offered, and the voting went on with most of the stickers accounted for. Fifty-seven endorsed option two and 15 option one.

This vote contradicted the one taken at the last meeting, when people chose among four concepts. More than 52 percent of those who voted then found the plan for a new seventh- and eighth-grade middle school appealing and only 13 percent didn’t. Twenty-nine percent of participants at the prior meeting found a 5-8 grade building unappealing.

The vote also contradicted Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings’ wishes. “I think the system that we have now really works,” he said at the last meeting. “In regards to grade configuration, it doesn’t really seem necessary.” He was not in attendance Thursday.

If the plan is approved tomorrow, Shaker residents can expect a final proposal to be on a ballot in May 2017.

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