WOOSTER — The future of Cornerstone Elementary School, the status of neighborhood schools and the potential burden on taxpayers of a facilities master plan being developed for schools in the city of Wooster were all on the table. table Thursday morning at the Wayne County Public Library.
Superintendent Gabe Tudor met with a dozen residents of the district who raised concerns about the long-term facilities plan that will be considered by the school board at its April meeting.
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Thursday’s meeting was the first of four community sessions held to seek public input on the plan.
“(The plan) isn’t finished yet, but it’s very close,” Tudor said.
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Moving from a six-building district to a four-building district would place a new sixth- through eighth-grade middle school on the Wooster High School campus; replace Cornerstone Elementary, excluding the gymnasium and preschool, with a new K-2 building; and locate a building in grades three through five, possibly at Parkview Elementary or another location yet to be determined.
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Sandra Hull, former executive director of Main Street Wooster, said Cornerstone Elementary, formerly the high school, is “an icon in this community”, reflecting “the tradition of decades of people who have been there”.
“It’s a landmark,” Hull said, asking Tudor to look for possible grants to restore old buildings.
Tudor explained that the district’s construction partner, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, uses a formula to determine if a building can be renovated using OFCC funds. No building in the district, with the exception of Wooster High School, can be renovated under OFCC funding guidelines.
Cornerstone Elementary needs major repairs, Tudor said, noting that the preschool portion of the building has been renovated in recent years by the district and the investment already made must be preserved.
The Cornerstone building “will be greatly missed,” said Melissa Hughes, who also told Tudor that making everything look good on the outside of a building doesn’t necessarily affect what happens on the inside.
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Ted Hill has expressed concern over the loss of Cornerstone as a structure, particularly its tower, “a unique piece of architecture” that cannot be replicated.
Hill asked what justifies removing the school and rebuilding it on the same site.
At one point, Tudor said, “We may have to agree to disagree”, and he also claimed to have addressed Cornerstone’s feasibility studies and grant options.
The cost of new schools relates to some
Bobbie Singleton, former director of curriculum and instruction at the Tri-County Educational Service Center, questioned the projected residential and commercial growth and cost of the plan.
Birth rates are falling, she said, and the community cannot fill the job openings that already exist. And property taxes have gone up.
“You’re going to put a huge burden on the community by asking for three new buildings,” she said, when maybe two would be enough.
The district would start by constructing two new buildings itself, Tudor said, and would wait to build the third building — a third- through fifth-grade school — until the district’s eligibility number appeared with the OFCC. The OFCC would ultimately pay $33 million of the estimated $102 million for the construction of three buildings.
The main planning committee has met regularly with up to 35 members who provide “pretty good representation of Wooster,” Tudor said.
The committee took into account projected population growth, aging buildings, the configuration of grade levels and 21st century learning models.
Compared to the standard classrooms the district now uses, the new buildings have shared spaces, Tudor said. “It takes a lot more flexibility than we currently have.”
Loss of neighborhood schools in Wooster
Moving away from neighborhood schools is a big change for the community, Tudor acknowledged, but beneficial not only to promote professional development and collaboration among grade-level teachers, but also to create an equal experience for all students, regardless of their socio-economic level.
“We’re really passionate about (it),” he said.
Kean Elementary and Cornerstone Elementary are completely different buildings, Tudor pointed out.
About 30% of Kean students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches; that number jumps to about 75% in Cornerstone.
The proposed school-level configuration encompasses housing for grades 9 through 12 in high school.
Barb Friedhoff said she applauds eighth grade returning to college. She also commented on addressing transportation issues to allow parents to stay engaged with schools and keep students with special needs in the district as much as possible.
If the council approves the facilities plan at its April meeting, the decision will not mean that construction will begin in May, Tudor pointed out.
The council will work “when the time is right”.
Seeking to prepare the neighborhood for the future, Tudor said, “Think 2055.”
Overall, Tudor said, “People will look back…and appreciate the forward thinking.”
Public master plan meetings
Three additional public feedback sessions are planned.
- Tuesday, March 29 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Wooster High School Library
- Thursday, April 7 from 9-10 a.m. at Undergrounds Cafe and Coffee House, 146 E. Liberty St.
- Monday, April 18 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Wooster High School Library.