BRECKSVILLE, Ohio – The Brecksville-Broadview Heights schools will permanently close Central Elementary School two years earlier than expected due to unforeseen damage, occurring earlier this school year, to the building’s roofs and floors.
The district will shutter Central this summer, then move Central’s fourth-grade class temporarily into the three remaining elementary schools, Chippewa, Highland and Hilton, starting in the 2019-2020 school year. Central’s fifth-graders will attend classes at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School.
Preschoolers who normally would attend Central will move into South Suburban Montessori School on the 185-acre Blossom Hill property, owned by the city of Brecksville, on Oakes Road. The city will lease part of the Montessori school to the district, and the preschool will share space with the Montessori school.
On Dec. 17, the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board authorized the district administration to negotiate a temporary lease with the city of Brecksville for classrooms in Montessori.
Last year, the district unveiled a plan to build one new pre-K-5 school that would replace four existing elementary schools — Central, Chippewa, Highland and Hilton. In May, voters approved a 2.2-mill bond issue to pay for the new school.
Under a land swap agreement signed earlier this year, the district will build the new school on Blossom Hill, and the city will take control of the Central school property. However, Central wasn’t supposed to close until the new school opens in fall 2021.
In November and December, after problems emerged at the Central school building, the district administration and board considered changing their plans and permanently moving pre-K into the existing Montessori school on Blossom Hill.
That’s because the new school, as currently designed, would have no room to expand if the preschool population grows, as it is projected to do, administration officials said. Meanwhile, the Montessori building has room for preschool expansion.
If pre-K were permanently placed in the Montessori school, administration officials said, the district would either shrink the size of the new school or keep it as is and move the district offices into the new school.
The board rejected that option 3-2 after parents protested. Parents said the district failed to keep them updated on proposed late changes to the new school’s design.
“We are the ones who are paying the taxes, who are paying for these schools,” one parent told the board Dec. 17, according to an audio recording of the meeting. “And if you’re one ones who have children in these schools who are being impacted by these decisions, it would have been nice to have our opinions heard before you decided which option you were going to take.”
Also, Broadview Heights Mayor Sam Alai, in a letter to the school district, said he opposed changing the new school’s grade configuration and moving the board office into the new building because that’s not what voters approved in May.
Meanwhile, Brecksville Mayor Jerry Hruby said the city has scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 in the Ralph W. Biggs City Council Chambers, 9069 Brecksville Road, to discuss the future of the Central school property.
During the Nov. 10, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 board meetings, district officials – including Superintendent Joelle Magyar and Chris Coad, director of business services – reported that Central school, built in 1914, was experiencing unexpected problems since voters approved the May bond issue.
Magyar said part of a roof collapsed into classrooms. Storm water from a nearby construction site that was not properly fenced off flowed under the Central building, causing floors to buckle. Additional floor tiles buckled for no apparent reason. And pieces of sandstone fell off the building, fortunately when the school was empty.
Magyar said that so far this school year, the district had spent about $120,000 to repair and maintain the Central building.
Coad presented the board three options for Central. One was to keep the school open until 2021 as originally planned. He said two engineers inspected the building and found it structurally sound. It posed no immediate negative environmental impact.
However, repair and maintenance costs at Central would continue to mount, Coad said. He said that over the next 2 1/2 years, the building would likely need repairs to the roof, masonry and the heat-ventilation-and-air-conditioning system to the tune of about $83,000 annually.
Coad and Magyar raised the question of whether the district should continue to spend money on maintenance and repairs for a building that will soon close.
A second option was to move Central’s fifth-grade class into the Montessori school at Blossom; disperse the fourth-grade among the three other elementary schools; and relocate the preschool to the middle school. The move would cost about $369,700, Coad said, largely due to increased costs of busing pupils to various schools.
The third option, the one finally chosen, would cost just $115,100, Coad said. Compared to the second option, the district would save money on several line items, including construction renovations, security enhancements and technology updates. Also, the third option would require less classroom space and no modular classrooms like the second option.
Meanwhile, the city of Brecksville agreed to take over Central school earlier if necessary, Magyar said, which would save the district money on insurance.
At the Nov. 10 meeting, the board expressed interest in all three options. They considered factors like costs, the amount of extra bus time for pupils, the number of pupils riding each bus and keeping grades together in one building.
The administration clearly favored moving the preschool to Blossom, at least partly because it wouldn’t separate pupils at the same grade level.
“From a cost standpoint and politically from a parent standpoint, to keep the fourth grade together and the fifth grade together is probably a better move for us when we looked at all the scenarios,” Magyar told the board.
By the Dec. 10 meeting, the board had agreed to shut down Central early and move preschoolers to Blossom Hill, partly because it was the least expensive option and partly due to safety.
“It’s gotten to a point where it seems like there’s no other choice, at least in my mind,” board President Kathleen Mack said. “It (Central) is not at a dangerous level, but it’s not the best for kids or staff.”
Magyar said administration officials will plan an open house at Central before turning the property over to the city, due to the historical nature of the building. She said parts of the building should be preserved if possible.
Magyar said both Hruby and the Montessori school were open to permanently housing the district’s preschool in the existing Blossom Hill school. She said that instead of the preschool, the new elementary school could house a new district office.
“This building (we’re now in) is just not conducive to having a board meeting where people can actually attend, and doing some cross-training with our staff,” Magyar said.
Magyar said a board decision on these issues was needed quickly to keep the design and construction of the new elementary school on schedule.
The board was divided over changing the new school’s grade configuration from the start.
Board member Mark Dosen said he would favor holding preschool classes permanently in the Montessori school only if the size of the new elementary school were reduced. The district could then use cost savings from the smaller elementary school on renovations at the high and middle school.
Board member Fred Pedersen didn’t even want to consider it altering the plan.
“We passed that bond issue to build a pre-k-through-five building,” Pedersen said. “And I think we ought to build a pre-k-through-five building.”
Magyar countered that during the bond campaign she made clear to voters that the district was monitoring preschool growth and may have to adjust its plans regarding the new elementary school.
Initially Mack favored moving the preschool permanently to the Montessori school and including board offices into the new elementary school. However, she then expressed concern about losing the trust of voters who passed the bond issue.
Parents weigh in
Once the district informed families about closing Central earlier than expected and possibly changing the new elementary school’s grade configuration, parents sounded off at the Dec. 17 board meeting. They were concerned about disruption the adjustments might cause.
Parents asked district officials why they waited so long to let them know about the proposed changes, especially those regarding the design of the new school. They said they had lost trust in the school board.
“This is a bait and switch,” one parent said. “Those are things that were not disclosed fully to the community, just as this (early closing of Central) is. The impact on our children is one that I don’t think is being adequately undertaken and understood.”
“We feel that we’ve been had – took, hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray,” another parent said.
Mack apologized to parents.
“We felt this was best for our staff and kids . . . our intention never was to be deceptive,” Mack said. “We are trying to make decisions quickly so we can keep our staff and our students safe.”
Mack said the board would adjust their decisions based on input from parents and residents. She ended up voting against changing the new school’s grade configuration. She was joined by board members Pedersen and Ellen Kramer.
Dosen and board member Mike Ziegler voted in favor of permanently housing the preschool in the Montessori building.
“The process that we went through I think it could have been better,” Dosen said. “It should have been better and we need to be better at that. This is not the way I would have liked to see this play out.”