SUNBURY — Big Walnut’s buildings were the topic of discussion at a special meeting of the Board of Education on Nov. 30.
“Basically, I called this meeting so we could focus specifically on the facilities of the district,” said board President Doug Crowl at the outset. “I think we need some answers…”
Director of Facilities Jim Hall, as well as Superintendent Ryan McLane, were on hand to provide many of them during the two-hour session.
“The Facilities Department oversees all capital improvement projects for both new and existing District facilities, as well as the maintenance and repair of our district’s buildings and properties,” said the district’s website. “The district has approximately one million square feet of building space with a total land mass of all district property is 310 acres.
“The Facilities Director is responsible to develop and implement long- and short-term strategies that maximize the return on investment (ROI) of public dollars in alignment with the district’s educational and operational objectives. He works collaboratively with other community stakeholders, building and health departments, and other partners including safety personnel and energy service providers.”
An update on the new buildings’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems was given by McLane. An independent assessment and inspection on this matter are being done at Prairie Run Elementary and Big Walnut High School, he said. The high school’s baseball and softball fields are now “looking great,” McLane said. “The HVAC is the last thing we’re waiting on.”
“I’ve got grave concerns about the statute of limitations issue” regarding HVAC warranties, Crowl said. In addition, “We’ve got a playground at PRE that for whatever reason, has wood chips instead of an acceptable flooring material … You can’t put a price on safety.”
Crowl was told the district is looking at replacing the wood chips with a smooth, spongy rubberized surface, as well as making all the playgrounds more accessible to all students.
Another concern is with number of students and classrooms the buildings can hold. For example, McLane said a need for additional class space meant the library at PRE was on the school stage but will be freed up again with a shift in grade bands the next school year.
“We need additions, not new buildings,” Crowl said, based on future growth in the city of Sunbury. Crowl said additions would be more cost efficient than a new school. He also wanted the Ohio School Facilities Commission to do an updated capacity study for the district.
Board members Angela Graziosi and Alice Nicks asked about the status of all the buildings, and McLane said a spreadsheet dating back to 2020 indicated work projects that had been done at each that they’ve been working off of. There seemed to be a gap between 2016 and 2020, he said. Crowl said a master facility plan from 2013 listed everything that needed to be done in the district, but he couldn’t find his copy.
Other items of discussion included:
• Big Walnut Elementary received new flooring and roof in recent years, McLane said. The south wall was also repaired. Work needs done to the playground, and the building needs repainted, and updating the asphalt and exterior lighting.
• Hall said he had quotes for redoing the playground at Big Walnut Intermediate. It could also be fenced in.
• The Big Walnut Middle School auditorium is not ADA compliant, so plays are being done at the BWHS performing arts center. Three rows of seating will need to be removed at BWMS. Also, there has never been air conditioning in the gym. The asphalt, running track, and tennis courts also need fixed.
• Built in 2010, General Rosecrans Elementary now needs a generator and retrofitting kitchen equipment, McLane said. The modular building is not on district property, Crowl said.
• Built in 1926, the Harrison Early Learning Center needs interior lighting and security system upgrades, and heating pipes. Graziosi felt the building was being underutilized; Crowl said it was a missed opportunity.
• Hylen Souders Elementary needs boilers, chillers and lighting replaced, McLane said. Expanding the parking lot, some of which is currently gravel, is under consideration with carryover funds. Crowl said next year should be blacktop year for the entire district. It could also have an addition.
• 105 Baughman Street was saved for last. Crowl said it was originally going to be an elementary, but no funding had been appropriated. He noted empty buildings tend to deteriorate faster than one that is occupied. Crowl said he had been in discussion with Heart of Ohio Community Schools to lease the building for five years, but necessary renovations couldn’t be made in time for their opening date. At least $9 million (in 2015) in repairs are needed, now estimated at $19.5-$25 million, and no contingency funds from constructing the new buildings are available.
McLane, who had been principal at Baughman for five years when it was the intermediate school, said the issues included asbestos and mold in some sections, HVAC, doors, fire panel, tree trimming and leaking roofs.
“The question is what are we going to do with that building because it is going to be a money pit,” McLane said. Crowl said the shell of the building is fine, but everything else needed replaced. He did not want the district to sell it or the land it sits on.
“I wouldn’t allow people in the building because we’re taking on a liability at that point,” Crowl said of Baughman.
Nicks wanted to know the total combined cost for repairs to all seven of the buildings. McLane said they will be working on that, checking what has been completed and what needs to be done. A status report will be given in January, and updated regularly, with possible community input from a resurrected Facilities Committee.
“Nobody who bought and paid for their home would let it get in that kind of condition,” Nicks said. “It’s concerning to me as a long-time tax-paying resident of this district, that we are in a situation with buildings that have not been cared for or maintained. And nobody seems to know this was not being done, which is another mystery.”
Lastly, Crowl said he was glad the maintenance department was moved over to the bus garage. McLane said roof repairs were needed there, as well as fences and pavement.
Before the board went into executive session, Nicks thanked Hall and “wished him well on this mission.”
Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].