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Marietta looks at building schools on college land

Marietta City Schools is investigating the possibility of locating new schools on Washington State Community College property as the prospect of a bond levy develops further.

The public got a fresh glimpse of the future of local schools Monday night at a board meeting as members of the board and administration of Marietta City Schools talked about the importance of rebuilding the district.

Board president Doug Mallett said a steering committee and subcommittees had been set up last spring but the board as a whole doesn’t often get the opportunity to talk at an open meeting about its ideas for building projects and their deeper meaning for students and the community.

“It’s an opportunity to transform how we teach and educate kids,” Superintendent Will Hampton said. “It can be a fresh start, not bound by history. We’re talking about much more than just a facility.”

The need to replace the district’s aging buildings and create a modern campus that is appropriate to the real student population has been under discussion for more than a year. The district is made up of five campuses, and the most recent of its buildings was put up in 1960. The schools have a capacity 40 percent higher than the number of students, a consequence of a long term decline in population.

“We’ve been working with Washington State Community College, and we’ve been blessed to have (WSCC president) Vicky Woods as part of our team,” curriculum director Jona Hall said.

Mallett said a tour of the WSCC lands is available to the board on the afternoon of Feb. 6.

“Washington State has a pretty big plot of land on their campus. That proximity could be valuable, but there’s a lot to be determined yet. Dr. Woods has offered to take us around the campus,” Mallett said.

Building an entire new physical presence for the district has been under discussion since at least the end of 2017, with a general agreement within the board and administration that a new high school, middle school and single elementary school would best serve the current needs of the district. Although it is far too early to discuss exact project costs, the district estimated in October 2017 it probably would take between $75 million and $100 million, with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission absorbing some of that cost. A levy for a rebuilding project in 2009 was defeated at the polls.

Treasurer Frank Antill told the board meeting that the district is in a good financial position, with no debt and plenty of bonding capacity.

“We’re not considering maxing our capacity, we’ll stay within our means in terms of borrowing capability,” he said.

Board vice president Russ Garrison said the state’s portion of the funding is an unknown at this point.

“The OFCC process is complex, and it changes every couple of years, and the timing will determine the portion of their share,” he said. “We don’t know how much the new (DeWine) administration is going to put into the construction fund, and that will really dictate our timing. We’re in limbo right now and probably through April or June. But there is the potential to put a levy on the ballot for November, depending on how fast the state moves.”

In the meantime, Garrison said, it’s important for work to continue on the vision.

“I’m really excited about this coming around, a conversation not so much about buildings as what we can bring to the community,” he said.

Hall said it’s a chance to broaden the scope of what schools can do.

“One aspect we measure is hope – we measure that in student surveys, and it’s a huge predictor of success,” she said. “We want whatever we offer them to be a chance to have a better life.”

In other business Monday night the board:

¯Recognized Valerie Moore, who is retiring, for 27 years of service.

¯Honored student Torrance Nonnemacher for setting a new school record in long jump and attaining All-Ohio honors.

¯Heard remarks from Jon Schwendeman, a former operations employee, who questioned the district’s use of specialty buses for handicapped students.

¯Heard a request for school personnel to volunteer for a county crisis response team.

The next scheduled monthly meeting of the board begins at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the administration office, 111 Academy Drive.

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