By Daniel Downs
While growing up, I attended public school in Xenia. I went to GJVS, Xenia High, West (now Warner) Jr. High, and the infamous Cox Elementary. On April 2, I returned to Cox. No, I was not having a senior moment. I was not attending a children’s program nor was I attempting to get in touch with my earlier self—whatever that means. I returned to Cox to attend the second of three Xenia Community School District Forums lead by Wright State University Center for Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA) staff.
The program began with a tour of the building. Leading the tour was maintenance supervisor Robert Smith. He presented a history of Cox Elementary school expansions, renovations, and problems. Smith pointed out several current problems such as an antiquated electrical system not capable of being properly maintained or handling needed computer systems and air conditioning. Another issue was old plumbing and bathroom facilities needing renovated as well as a collapsed drainage pipe and occasional flooding. When asked about the cost of fixing those problems, Smith said he would not venture a guess. He did indicate that those repairs would entail a major renovation.
I think Smith committed a Freudian slip when he said, “I will have plenty of money for maintenance whether new schools are built or not.” That statement led me to believe the school district has enough money to fix the current problems. But, in light of the nearly $122.5 million building project, I might have committed a subliminal misunderstanding.
After the tour, WSU-CUPA staff presented a general overview of the present situation. The state has determined that no Xenia school building except the current high school and the Central High School meets the two-thirds rule. The rule means the state will not fund any building renovation that would costs two-thirds or more of the cost to build a new facility. Originally, the Ohio School Facilities Commission had condemned all Xenia school buildings under the two-thirds rule but Xenia school officials argued that the two newest facilities were compliant with disability regulations. They also proposed a reuse plan for the current high school and Central Middle School. The high school would house all middle school students and Central Middle School would be converted into an elementary school. The state liked the reuse plan and consequently waived the two-thirds rule.
According to the state law, it is possible to renovate schools even when costs will exceed the two-thirds rule. The Ohio School Facilities Commission will waive the rule based on factors such as the historical significance of a building, adequacy of a school’s structure, space, classroom size, and egress. Other factors used to evaluate schools are quality of lighting and air, long-term durability, and the ability to meet American Disability Act standards. Consequently, Xenia could possibly renovate the historically significant central office building and most of the schools.
According to board member Bill Spahr, another state rule is that all schools must have at projected enrollment of at least 350 students to receive Ohio School Facilities Commission funding, which explains why Xenia school administrators plan to reduce the number of elementary schools from seven to five. Super-sizing Xenia schools also means almost all middle school students will travel by bus to what is now the high school. It means no more neighborhood schools for families now attending Spring Hill, Simon Kenton, or Cox.
The plan to build new schools at current school locations with sufficient land makes sense. Doing so will allow students to continue meeting in the same buildings until new ones are built. However, I see a conflict with the 350 rule and the current rebuilding plan. For example, building a new school at Tecumseh will not change its enrollment of 280 students. Up the road towards town is Shawnee with an enrollment of 288. Children now attending Shawnee will likely attend what is now Central Middle School. Because a complete renovation is not planned for Central, the 350 rule doesn’t apply. School administrators are not planning to rebuild at Spring Hill. So where will its students go? Will the 219 children attending Spring Hill be bused to Central or will a new school be built to service both Spring Hill students and those living at Wright Cycle Estates? Or will children living in the areas between South Detroit and Bellbrook Avenue get a new school? If so, will the 380 children attending Simon Kenton combine with the 383 at McKinley instead of the 239 students at Arrowood? Where does that leave the 346 children attending Cox? Where do school officials plan to bus them? To Tecumseh?
I think building a new school at Cox would be a better use of school property. It would at least give Cox students a school in reasonable proximity to their neighborhoods. Remember, those most affected by the rebuilding plan are elementary age children and their parents.
Originally published on April 26 in the Xenia Daily Gazette