The committee reviewed the various options that North Hills-based firm Architectural Innovations previously prsented to the board, along with the costs ranging from $2.5 million up to $25 million.
Kevin Blanarik, committee chairman, said the group quickly eliminated the most expensive options, realizing they weren't financially feasible for the school district.
"We began to look at what could be done," he said.
In the end, the committee unanimously agreed to recommend "Option G," which involves converting Economy Elementary and into Economy Middle School for grades 5, 6 and 7.
Eighth-grade students would move to the high school.
Highland Elementary would become Harmony Elementary for grades 2, 3 and 4.
State Street would become Baden Primary Center for kindergarten and first grade. Space would be open to fit Pre-K at either State Street or Highland schools.
The district administrative offices would remain at the high school.
To accomplish the conversion, Blanarik said some minor renovations would be needed at Economy Elementary to address such needs as labs, music rooms, and lockers for seventh-graders, with no additions to the building needed.
This option would cost about $530,000 and the committee concluded the plan would proficiently use space the district already owns.
“By moving all the students in each particular grade level to the same building, that allows for a more proficient use of the staff. It would shrink class sizes and allows all teachers that work in a grade level to collaborate so that all children receive the same education.
Children at State Street, children at Economy, children at Highland will all be together receiving the same education.”
The junior high
The plan calls for the junior high to be demolished, a cost estimated to be about $500,000 if materials are recycled.
By closing the junior high, the committee determined the district could save $150,000 annually in utilities alone. The district would also realize “significant” savings from maintenance costs, Blanarik said.
“You’d be able to use your maintenance staff and janitorial staff much more efficiently,” he said.
A few parents from Economy took issue with the recommendation to raze the junior high without trying to make repairs. Two parents warning that some students might leave for private and charter schools.
“Have you taken into consideration that you will be losing some families and some children in the school district if you close the junior high? Because you will,” one mother said.
Megan Trimbur of Economy, who joined the committee in November, said she advocated for the parents and it wasn’t an easy decision, but looking at the situation and the numbers, the answer was clear.
“As many of you know, I stood up here and said I was against the redistricting. I was against the junior high closing. However, sitting here with the committee and talking and discussing…we need to do this for our children, I’m sorry,” said Trimbur, adding that the idea of putting her youngest child on a bus to Highland makes her feel uneasy.
“Seeing what other school districts have to offer, we can’t put a price tag on our children’s education for the sake of a building.”
Making a decision
Blanarik said the group held their first meeting at the junior high to see first-hand what the building's issues were. They toured the boiler room to see the heating system and were shown the electrical system. They walked through classrooms and bathrooms to see the conditions.
"The conditions were not because of a lack of maintenance or lack of cleaning. In fact, the staff does a pretty good job in keeping those areas in serviceable condition. The conditions we were looking at were due to age and deterioration, he said.
Blanarik said cheapest two options to preserve the junior high offered the bare minimum to keep the building functional -- mechanical repairs for $2.5 million and the electrical and air conditioning systems for $5.9 million -- seemed to be short term fixes to long term problems.
He said the group felt it was important to use the facilities more efficiently and instead worked toward a cost-effective solution.
Solicitor Lisa Colautti said in the event the board would decide to close the school buildings, school code requires a public hearing be held with 15 days advertised notice. At the conclusion of the public hearing, school code requires the board to wait a minimum of three months before making any decision.
If teachers are going to be given new assignments or any changes will be made, Colautti said they must be given notice at end of the school year or a minimum of 60 days before the new school year starts.
School Board President MC Knafelc said the board received the report at the same time as the public and wouldn’t be making a decision at this time.
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