Participants in the Cuyahoga Falls City School District's community engagement series Uniting For Our Future met Oct. 12 at Roberts Middle School where breakout groups met for the first time.

Following remarks by the district's superintendent, Dr. Todd Nichols, everyone broke out into four study groups that were initially established at the previous UFOF session Sept. 28.

The four groups are: Model Educational Environment; Locations and Transitions; Renovate vs. Rebuild vs. Do Nothing; and Finances and Timeline.

After the four groups met in separate rooms, they reconvened in the school cafeteria to report on their discussions.

Melissa Smith presented the initial findings of "Model Educational Environment." She said there were several educators in the room who shared their perspectives. Smith said the group as a whole spent a lot of time talking about building configurations.

"We are in full agreement with the campus setting with seventh and eighth [grades in one building] and ninth through 12th [grades in another building]," Smith said. "There was flexibility with prekindergarten through third grade and fourth through sixth, or some variation, partly based on licensure for early childhood and middle childhood."

Smith said members of the group, which numbered around 15, looked at creative ways to meet all learners' needs and found it's difficult in a smaller elementary school to have enough students to properly group them to enhance their needs. Accessibility for use by adults in the community and meeting their needs was also talked about, she said.

Smith said her group's members thought it might be beneficial to build a new elementary school first, but they agreed dialogue with the other three groups was needed before they could say it's feasible.

Reporting out for "Renovate vs. Rebuild vs. Do Nothing," Ellen McClure said there was a lot of discussion about the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and how it funds projects. "I think we have more questions in this group than answers," McClure said. "There are a lot of questions about the funding, what the funding can be used for, can we use funding to renovate, can we use funding for specific things with rebuild."

McClure said the group, which was the largest at 25 or more members, did however come to unanimity on one thing: "Do nothing is not an option." This statement was met with applause. McClure suggested inviting a representative of OFCC to answer questions.

Nichols said he will work to provide access to any architects, engineers or OFCC officials to answer questions. "I can probably manufacture an opportunity for people who have been through the process who can help you," he said. "All you have to do is ask."

Kathy Soudry said she and the other 12 members of "Locations and Transitions" looked at each school property and assessed what could be done there. "Silver Lake is a nice site," Soudry said, "but it's small and couldn't house a high school or middle school. It's a question mark for an elementary school."

The Sill site is large enough to have possibilities, she continued. The Price and Richardson elementary sites have limited accessibility. Preston has a lot of acreage. Lincoln has ample access on all sides and while DeWitt has good access, too, the property is not large. Bolich and Newberry together have the largest acreage of all district properties, Soudry said.

"That could be a likely site for a large campus," she said, adding her group's next step is to review site plans and acreage numbers for each property, and see what options would fit where.

Soudry pointed out that Falls City Schools does not own the Price property. Nichols said the district can lease the site indefinitely as long as it is used for educational purposes. "If it is not used for a school, it goes back to the family," he said.

Roberts Middle School is another "tricky" site, the superintendent said, because the district owns Little Black Tiger Stadium and the school stadium on opposite ends and the city Parks and Recreation Department owns land in the middle.

Adam Hines reported for the six-member "Finances and Timeline" group. He said if the five-year 9.97-mill levy that is on the ballot Nov. 8 passes, it will expire in 2021.

In terms of a bond for a new campus, he said, the tightest timeline would be four months. "If anything were to be put on the ballot in November 2017 we would have to make a move by this January, which seems highly unlikely," Hines said. "So, we're looking at November 2018 for that bond."

Hines said the group discussed the possibility of converting the three renewal levies into continuous levies to save the district the cost of placing them on the ballot every five years. They also looked at a permanent improvement levy, he said, adding "permanent" does not mean "forever."

All four study groups will remain open to new members who want to get involved. Uniting For Our Future meets the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. The next meeting is Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Bolich Middle School, 2630 13th. St.


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