'Hybrid' school, admins find familiar home
When the bell sounds Aug. 22, the shuttered school building across from Big Walnut High School in Sunbury once again will come alive with the sounds of students walking the halls.
The one-story brick building at 105 Baughman St. has served the Big Walnut Local School District for more than a half-century, acting as the district's original high school as well as a middle school.
After being closed last school year, it's now reopening as the district's fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate school and will house 435 students for the 2012-13 school year.
An open house for parents, students, staff and others will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 20.
"We're going to be kind of a hybrid of elementary and middle school with a program that best meets the needs of the kids that will be here," Principal Steve Butler said Wednesday, July 11.
Students and most of the staff will come from the district's three elementary schools. The school will have four core subjects: math, science, language arts and social studies.
In addition, the seven-period day, which will run from 9:10 a.m. until 4 p.m., will have art, music, physical education, lunch and recess, said Angie Pollock, the district's director of academic achievement.
The art, music and phys-ed classes will be staggered on different days through the week, she said. The school has 16 regular classrooms as well as space for the offices of the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the treasurer and central office staff.
When school officials decided in February to close the district's administration building in Galena and establish an intermediate school, the plan called for coupling both in the same building.
The one-time cost of doing so is around $220,000, but nearly half of that -- about $101,000 -- is offset by no longer having maintenance and utility costs to run the Galena building. That aged building has problems with leaks, mold and other maintenance issues that would have required between $200,000 and $300,000 to fix, district officials said. The district now plans to auction the site.
Superintendent Steve Mazzi told the school board in February the plan was the most workable of those presented.
"I will tell you as the educational leader of the district, (the 5-6 configuration) ... will last us into the future," he said at that time.
Butler and Pollock said last week that preparations for the opening of the school are well under way.
Painting, retiling of some floors and installation of new carpet squares in some rooms have helped to transform the building. This has all been done at little or no cost because of surplus materials left from other school buildings, such as the new middle school that opened in 2012, officials said.
Custodial and maintenance staff have worked hard to get the school in shape, they said.
"It's a work in progress," Butler said. "We hope to be done by the end of July."
On opening day, 21 full-time teachers, six part-time teachers (for art, music and phys ed) and about 20 aides, food service, maintenance and other workers will staff the building.
"From a district standpoint, we're really excited," Pollock said. "I've heard a lot of positive feedback. I think a lot of the sixth-grade parents are happy" having their children as kids a while longer rather then going to a middle school with older students.
Under the old grade configuration, the elementary schools held grades K-5; the middle school contained grades 6-8; and the high school had the remaining grade levels. Now, grades K-4 are at the elementary schools; 5-6 in the new intermediate school; 7-8 at the middle school; and the rest at the high school.
Pollock and Butler have been meeting with the teaching staff and expect a smooth transition. The fifth- and sixth-graders will ride on the same buses, which also is a plus, they said.
Butler, who has worked in the administration building the past three years as head of the district's gifted program, is happy to be back as a principal.
"I'm a building principal. I'd rather be (working) with the kids," he said.
As far as extracurricular activities, Butler wants to have a student government and both he and Pollock anticipate there will be a chess club. Butler said he is open to other suggestions.
While the intermediate school is not an answer to redistricting issues in Big Walnut, it will help in the short term, officials said.
The school has a capacity of about 475 students and has helped to reduce student population in the elementary schools. The district no longer must spend $32,000 a year to house its preschool classes in a rented building in Sunbury. Those students are being moved for the new school year to Big Walnut and Rosecrans elementary schools.
However, having too few students at Souders Elementary School remains an issue that must be addressed at some point, Pollock said.