Whitehall Board of Education members and district administrators agreed on a plan last week to help alleviate overcrowding in local classrooms while holding onto enough funding to make renovations to part of the old high school.
District officials and board members met in special session Jan. 17 to discuss the district's overcrowding problem and a plan to tackle that and other construction issues.
The meeting, which became strained at times, lasted for nearly two hours. In the end, board members agreed with the administration's recommendation to add 12 new classrooms to Whitehall's three new elementary schools -- a recommendation also endorsed by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (formerly the Ohio School Facilities Commission).
Board members also agreed to keep part of the old Kae Avenue Elementary School, which will be used as a new home for the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Development Center and two other district special-education preschool rooms; demolish the old C. Ray building; and continue with plans to renovate the back portion of the old Whitehall-Yearling High School, giving priority to the interior before the exterior, depending on available funding.
The district began the school year with four of the five schools up and running, with the new Whitehall-Yearling High School slated to open its doors in late summer for the 2013-14 school year.
State attendance projections were off, however, with enrollment jumping way beyond expected numbers, leaving some classrooms overcrowded and forcing school officials to move some children to schools other than their neighborhood school.
Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy questioned the state's projections from the beginning, she said.
A number of district officials presented information to the board Jan. 17, including financial, structural and architectural, so that they could make a decision about how to proceed.
According to district treasurer Steve McAfee, the $80 million project should come in about $6.2 million under budget. That, combined with nearly $70,000 in interest earnings on the construction funds, should give the district $6,286,552 in available funds for the additional classrooms and other renovations.
The 12 additional classrooms are expected to cost about $3.2 million. After that is subtracted from the $6.3 million in available funds and after the state takes back its portion of the remaining dollars, McAfee said, he expects Whitehall to be left with roughly $2.2 million to be used to convert the old Kae Avenue elementary into preschool classrooms and to renovate the back portion of the old high school.
Various board members had made other suggestions when discussing the placement of the additional classrooms in December, proposing even that the old Kae Avenue school be used for overflow or that the classrooms be added to Rosemore Middle School, where more space is available.
According to Dobbert-Meloy, those suggestions did not pan out. Adding four classrooms each to the three new elementaries proved to be the least problematic.
"With the brainstorming we've done, we feel that's the best idea," she said.
Victoria Newell, of Schorr Architects, told board members that adding the classrooms to Beechwood Elementary School and Kae Avenue would be relatively easy, but adding them to Etna Road Elementary School would pose a few more challenges.
All were feasible, though, she said.
The district is expected to return to the board with a more formal plan in February, asking for its approval.
Although the renovations are not expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, district officials have stressed that time is of the essence.