BG gets school facilities report – now citizens get to weigh in

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The state has weighed in on Bowling Green City School buildings – now it’s time for local citizens to do the same. Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci just received the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission’s report at 9:30 this morning, so he hadn’t had time to fully digest its contents. However, it was already very clear to him that Bowling Green residents have some decisions to make. To start that process, the first of several community focus groups will meet March 14 at 6:30 p.m., in the middle school library. Scruci plans to roll out the facilities report and ask citizens how they would like to solve building issues identified in the report. “We need to have a conversation with our community to find out what they want and what they will support,” he said. Scruci estimated the public input process would take about a year. At that point, if the public supports it, the district may proceed with a bond issue to finance some type of construction. “I don’t want to be reckless and put something on our ballot,” if the community doesn’t want it, he said. The options are numerous and involve maintaining buildings as they are, renovating or building new. But in the meantime, the school district cannot wait to deal with overcrowding issues at Conneaut Elementary. The school is already at capacity and anticipating a larger kindergarten class due to a change in the eligibility dates for beginning students. “We are out of space,” Scruci said. So the district plans to lease a modular unit for its fifth grade classrooms starting this fall. The unit will be placed off the cafeteria area of the school. “It’s a temporary solution,” he said. The facilities report from the state identified Conneaut as the building with the greatest needs, recommending that it may be more cost effective to demolish it and build new, rather than renovate, Scruci said. The report estimated it would cost $10 million to renovate the building, as opposed to $13 million to build new. To rate school buildings, the OFCC scores 22 structural and technological criteria. The renovation and replacement costs are then based on meeting those standards. The facilities report estimates it would cost $25 million to renovate the high school, and between $38-$40 million to replace it. Scruci said it probably would not be worth it for the district to co-fund construction projects with the state. Based on a formula using local property values, the district would get only 10 to 14 cents per $1 for construction costs. “On paper we look different than what we actually are,” Scruci said, listing the farmland value and college student population as items that skew the numbers. If the district were to accept the state funding, it would be constrained by state rules. “It probably isn’t worth playing by their rules. You lose the local control,” he said. “I can tell you, my recommendation to the board isn’t going to be to enter into that.” The report also predicts an increase in district enrollment by 150 to 175 students in the next 10 years. Scruci estimates that number to be even greater. “I can see our populations growing a little more than what they are projecting,” he said. Next…

Scruci talks about athletics, attendance and modular classrooms

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green Board of Education heard plans Tuesday affecting athletes, attendance and adding modular classrooms. Superintendent Francis Scruci said the district will soon be going out for bids on a modular unit that would hold four classrooms at Conneaut Elementary School. The school’s enrollment is approximately 500. Scruci had reported to the board last month that classroom space will be in short supply next school year at the elementary, resulting in the need for a modular unit on site, possibly for the entire fifth grade. “It’s certainly not something anyone wants to hear,” Scruci said last month. “We do have some shortages in terms of square footage.” However, he added that modular units have improved over the years since schools first started using them to make up for inadequate classroom space. The district will be looking for more permanent solutions after it receives its report from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. That report looks at the overall building needs of the district and is expected later this week. Public meetings will be held to present those findings. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Scruci mentioned the need to have higher standards for the district’s athletic programs. He noted the high quality of educational and arts programs in the district, and said the same high expectations should be in place for the athletic programs. When asked after the meeting if the district was considering drug testing for athletes, Scruci said that was an option. “We have had a brief conversation,” on that topic, he said. Scruci also told the board that he is looking at tightening up the attendance policy for students. The current policy allows 14 unexcused absences in the first half of the school year, then gives students a fresh start in January, meaning 28 unexcused absences would be permitted for a school year. Scruci would like to reduce those numbers. The board also heard that the district will hold a job fair for new teachers on March 19, which is a month earlier than usual. Scruci said by having the event earlier, the district has a better chance at getting good job candidates as they graduate from college. “This is an attempt to get some of the best out of this class,” he said.

BG school calendar proposal – good news and bad news

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Next year’s proposed calendar for Bowling Green City Schools has some good news and some bad news. The good news – students’ quarters and testing periods won’t be broken up by long vacations. The bad news – students’ summer will be cut shorter than usual to make that happen. Long gone are the days when school started after Labor Day. Now districts feel the pressure to squeeze in a couple weeks of classes before September rolls around. Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci presented the proposed school calendar Tuesday evening to the board of education. The schedule calls for classes to start on Aug. 15. By starting early, students will be able to complete two full quarters before heading off for Christmas break. According to Scruci, teachers and students then won’t have to spend the first couple weeks in January refreshing their memories of what they learned in December. “We can’t afford that anymore,” Scruci said. Spring break will then fall on the first full week of March. That means the vacation time won’t get in the way of school testing, he said. Scruci realizes the mid-August start to the school year may not be popular with some. “Granted, that is early,” he said. But the early start will also mean an early end to the school year on May 23 – as long as the district doesn’t exceed its snow calamity days. The early exit in May could give BG students a better opportunity to compete for summer jobs, the superintendent added. School board member Ed Whipple voiced his support for the school calendar changes. “I think the testing issue is critical,” he said. Whipple also noted that the earlier spring break for the school district would be helpful to many families since it would then align with the break at Bowling Green State University. “They will be doing the happy dance,” he said. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board: Heard a presentation from Jacob Kielmeyer, a member of the DECA program about his project that won first place at the district level. A story will appear later this week on his project. Learned 43 of 50 DECA students qualified for a state tournament. Welcomed 18 international educators who are studying at BGSU. Learned drama club students will be attending the state thespian conference and competition. Heard Model UN members were going to a conference at Ohio State University. Thanked Steve and Rhonda Melchi for their donation of $500 for the “Believe” scholarship.

Prospects good for Boys State to stay at BGSU

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The state American Legion and Bowling Green State University both want Buckeye Boys State to continue to meet in Bowling Green. The two sides are in the process of negotiating a new five-year conference agreement. The current deal lasts through the 2016 event. Boys State brings about 1,300 male high school juniors to campus for a week of mock government activities each June. A recent letter to a local newspaper asserted that BGSU was about to lose out in hosting the event. However, Gerald White, the director of Buckeye Boys State, in an email to the university prompted by that letter asserted the Legion’s desire to keep the civics event at Bowling Green where it has convened since 1978. The email was intended, he said, “to set the record straight” and let university officials “know exactly where American Legion Buckeye Boys State stands so there is no misunderstanding, confusion, or misleading information.” Yes, he said, the Legion does check out other campuses “to see what would be available should something catastrophic occur on the BGSU campus or in the City of Bowling Green which would necessitate Boys State not being able to conduct the program.” Also, he said, other institutions do query the Legion about whether it would like to move. That’s not surprisingly, the director said, given the program’s success and prominence. None of those has offered “significant financial incentives” to get Boys State to relocate. The conference agreement must be periodically studied, he said, adding: “I think it is a mark of the partnership between American Legion Buckeye Boys State, the City of Bowling Green, Wood County, and Bowling Green State University and the pleasure and pride that the Buckeye Boys State Board of Trustees has in conducting our program on the BGSU campus that for 37 years, now going into 38, Buckeye Boys State has remained in the City of Bowling Green and the campus of Bowling Green State University.” While other options have been looked at, White wrote: “It is every hope of the Buckeye Boys State Board of Trustees that a Conference Agreement can be worked out to the satisfaction of both parties, but I can assure you, that at the present time while other facilities have been looked at, there is NO decision to move the program.” University spokesman Dave Kielmeyer issued a statement. “BGSU greatly values our long-term relationship with Buckeye Boys State and we’re committed to continuing that partnership. Our discussions with the American Legion on a contract renewal for the program have been extremely positive and productive.”

Drivers needed for wheels on the bus to go round

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Wanted: Adults with good driving records willing to work odd hours and cart around 60 kids at a time. Applicants with nerves of steel and eyes in the back of their heads would be preferred. Like other school districts around the region, Bowling Green is looking for bus drivers, specifically substitute bus drivers. Carlton Schooley, director of the district’s transportation department, made a pitch for more drivers during Tuesday’s board of education meeting. He eased into his presentation with the sing-song version of “The Wheels on the Bus.” But Schooley pointed out that unlike the bus in the children’s song, his buses go beyond just the town. “They also go around the district,” which stretches miles out on rural roads. The bus drivers are more than just chauffeurs for students, Schooley explained. “School bus drivers are the first people in the morning that students see” and the last school officials to return them home at the end of the day. His presentation, called “So you want to be a bus driver,” explained the process to become a driver. The district currently has 20 regular drivers, and eight substitutes. But that is just not enough. “We’re always looking for drivers,” BG Superintendent Francis Scruci said. But the job does have some downsides. Drivers work split shifts, transporting students a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon. And the passengers aren’t always the best behaved. “It really is a trying job,” Schooley said, explaining the drivers must keep their attention on the road, while maintaining order on the bus. “You have 60 kids behind you and no eyes in the back of your head.” Anyone interested in the job may submit an electronic application. Driving histories and background checks will be investigated. Then prospective drivers take a 15-hour class which covers topics from driving safety, to handling blood-borne pathogens, to rending First Aid. Applicants learn how to best handle behavioral issues. “You need to know what you’re going to do before it occurs,” Schooley said. Prospective drivers learn to inspect parts of the bus, like tires, lights and electrical circuits. They learn maneuvers for pulling onto highways, crossing railroad tracks, unloading students, and pulling over for emergencies. Applicants then take four written tests, including questions on mountain driving, “though that’s not critical here,” Schooley said. The final training includes riding with a seasoned driver, then taking over the wheel themselves. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, board member Ed Whipple praised Scruci for his “judicious” decisions on school delays and cancellations due to weather conditions. Scruci said he and Schooley head out early in the morning to check out roads. “It’s the most thankless decision,” Scruci said. “We have an obligation to educate our kids and we can’t do it if they aren’t in school.” But they have to get there safely, and that’s where the bus driver behind the wheel comes in.

BG bleacher costs come in high

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News The estimated cost for new bleachers at the Bowling Green High School football stadium was nothing to cheer about Tuesday evening. Replacement of the aging, rusting bleachers could cost as much as $610,845, according to Kent Buehrer, of Buehrer Group, which is in charge of the project. The estimate came in higher than projections made in the fall, which topped out at $500,000. Buehrer told the BG board of education that he would try to reduce the final price tag. But if it can’t be trimmed, the project will eat up the district’s entire 1.2-mill permanent improvement levy revenue for the year, according to district treasurer Rhonda Melchi. A section of the 50-year-old bleachers had to be closed off last fall after it was noticed that the steel scaffolding beneath the seats was rusting. To get through the remainder of the football season, the district put temporary bleachers up on the north end of the field. “We don’t want anyone to get injured,” school board president Paul Walker said. The new bleachers will cover the same approximate footprint of the existing seating, Buehrer said. However, building codes for restrooms at the facility are much more extensive than when it was first built. He described the current restrooms as “fairly minimal.” Buehrer said he is working with the county building inspection department to see if the new restrooms, planned next to the wrestling building, can avoid some of the stringent requirements. According to Buehrer, the visitor bleachers on the east will have seating for 750. The home seating on the west will have seating for 2,000, with the length stretching from the current 210 feet to 235 feet. “That adds some expenses,” he said. The press box will remain the same. Initially, the district planned to spend about $165 per bleacher seat. That amount has grown a bit, with the estimates at: $357,495 for the home side, $129,750 for the visitors side, and close to $100,000 for the restrooms. Buehrer told the board he hopes to have plans for the project done next week. He will report back to the board in February. Some of the old bleachers will remain in place for the track season this spring, while some of the bleachers will be demolished in April. The plan is to have the new bleachers completed by Aug. 12, a couple weeks prior to the school’s first football game.

BG may use modular classrooms at Conneaut

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green Board of Education heard Tuesday evening about three places students sit – in school buses, on stadium bleachers, and maybe in modular classrooms. The board learned from Superintendent Francis Scruci that classroom space will most likely be in short supply next school year at Conneaut Elementary. For that reason, the district may have to consider putting a modular unit on site, possibly for the entire fifth grade. “It’s certainly not something anyone wants to hear,” Scruci said. “We do have some shortages in terms of square footage.” However, he added that modular units have improved over the years since schools first started using them to make up for inadequate classroom space. The modular unit is just one building issue facing the school district. Scruci told the school board that the buildings report from the Ohio School Facilities Commission is expected later this month. To explain the report, and the possible solutions for the district, Scruci plans to hold a workshop for the public in Febrary. The district will need to decide whether to renovate or replace facilities, he said. “The most important thing is, what does our community want to support?” One of the report’s recommendations is that the district replace Conneaut Elementary School which was built in the early 1950s, Scruci said. But citizen input must be gathered, so any solution is specifically tailored to Bowling Green, he added. “So the community feels like it has a say.” According to Scruci, the cost to renovate Conneaut has been estimated by the state at about $9.6 million. The cost to replace it was estimated at about $12 million. He explained that when the renovation costs are more than 66 percent of the replacement costs, the state considers replacement to be more fiscally sensible. Another option the district may discuss is consolidating all the elementary schools on the campus already used for the middle and high schools. “What does this community want,” he said, after the meeting. In the meantime, Scruci said the district will likely lease a modular for Conneaut, which has an approximate enrollment of 500 students. (Stories on the school buses and stadium bleachers will appear later this week.)