The Northeastern Local Schools board members have approved a contingency plan to consolidate the district’s two high schools and close Rolling Hills Elementary School if voters in May reject again a $79 million bond issue for new schools.
The district is asking voters for money to build two new pre-k through 12th-grade schools in the district, one on the Kenton Ridge High School side and the other on the Northeastern High School side. The state has offered to pay about $40 million for the schools, making the total cost of the project about $119 million.
Passage of the bond would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $25 a month or $295 a year.
Having a back-up plan is necessary, Northeastern Local Schools Superintendent John Kronour said.
“The district faces a number of upcoming facilities expenses to address problems in the aging school buildings, such as leaking roofs, poor air quality, heating and air conditioning regulation, plumbing problems, and other issues,” he said.
The contingency plan calls for closing Rolling Hills Elementary, using South Vienna and Northridge as preschool through fifth-grade elementary buildings, converting Kenton Ridge High School into a middle school for all sixth- through eighth-grade students and making Northeastern High School the only high school in the district.
“By eliminating one building, the district will reduce necessary repairs in the future and be able to concentrate limited funds available for facilities upgrades toward the remaining four buildings,” Kronour said.
Consolidating Northeastern and Kenton Ridge high schools has been a controversial topic in the district for years. During multiple community forums throughout the past two years, residents have debated with each other the pros and cons of doing so.
The board asked voters to pay for two pre-k through 12th grade schools in the district because they believed the community was more likely to pass the issue that way.
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Making this move is going to be hard on everyone, resident Chrisdee Rastatter said.
“It was very emotional for everyone,” she said. “Northeastern and Kenton Ridge, I hope that we do not come to that decision. I hope we pass the levy and not have to deal with the consequences of consolidation. I think both sides are wanting to stay the same and its a hard topic for our community right now.”
There is a need for new schools in the district, she said.
Northeastern Board President Jill Parker said approving the contingency plan was a difficult decision.
“We can only hope now that circumstances will change and this plan will never need to be implemented,” she said.
Board members Steve Schwitzgable, Joel Augustus and John Crankshaw declined to comment and board member Jeff Yinger didn’t respond. The Springfield News-Sun also reached out to people who said they planned to vote against the bond issue but they declined to comment for this article.
Molly Douglas attended Rolling Hills Elementary School when she was a kid and has a daughter at the school now. She wanted her youngest to also attend the school.
“It’s hard. Dropping my daughter off and remembering and going through her time and then thinking back to when I was going to school, it’s kind of hard leaving,” Douglas said. “None of the buildings are in good shape, Rolling Hills was in bad shape when I went there about 20 years ago but it was my most favorite school to go to. It was like a family.”
Rolling Hills was built using a unique open-space design where it has no permanent walls. The design adds challenges for teachers, Kronour said, as classroom privacy is at a minimum.
There are also safety concerns, Douglas said.
“They considered Rolling Hills the most unsafe school out of them because there are no inside doors to the classroom, it’s just open space,” she said.
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