WILMINGTON — The Wilmington City Schools (WCS) Board of Education voted 3-2 to keep the East End School building open rather than to immediately vacate it and put it on the market.
In doing so, the school board also effectively decided not to move the East End preschool operations to another building, most likely Holmes Elementary, for the 2022-23 academic year.
Board members Carrie Zeigler, Kevin Snarr and Brian Shidaker voted Wednesday against an agenda item that would have closed down East End and relocated the district’s preschool to another building. Board President Mike Flanigan and member Marty Beaugard Sr. were in favor of the measure.
The wording in the proposal cited declining enrollment district-wide plus financial reasons as the main grounds to close the building. Currently, the preschool is the sole program or grade level at East End.
Zeigler said she feels the timing isn’t right for closing the building, noting an imminent change in superintendent leadership and the WCS tax renewal expected to be on the November ballot.
She also doesn’t feel, speaking as an educator, like moving preschool to Holmes right now is the best thing.
“It just doesn’t sit well with me educationally,” said Zeigler, a former Holmes principal.
Zeigler also indicated she was disappointed in the appraisal price quoted for the property — $453,500.
Snarr wondered which facility “would best serve” the preschool students.
“Do we feel Holmes can do just as good of a job housing the [preschool] program?” he asked.
Although it makes short-term financial sense to Snarr to close it down, he said he feels like closing East End “is like throwing in the towel and waving the white flag — that we’re accepting lower enrollment.”
Snarr also wonders whether there’s enough time to complete the necessary remodeling at Holmes for the preschool to move in by mid-August.
At one point in the evening meeting, Shidaker acknowledged he was on the fence after having been a ‘yes’ earlier in the day.
All four preschool teachers were in attendance, and Shidaker said he saw their faces and their hesitation on the proposed move, adding he was struggling whether it was the right thing to do.
At one juncture, Shidaker asked hypothetically whether the school district would be required to sell if the private school Wilmington Christian Academy (WCA) made a bid at the appraisal price. According to Wilmington City Schools officials at the meeting, if the building were closed and put on the market, the school district legally has to give the first option to educational institutions within the district such as Wilmington College and WCA.
WCS Director of Business Operations Curt Bone answered Shidaker’s question by saying the district’s legal counsel would be consulted, but Bone believes the building would have to sell as long as the offer is not below the appraised property value.
During the meeting, WCS Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling said her mind right now is asking the question of whether keeping East End open for four classrooms is feasible.
Board President Flanigan said if the levy were to fail again in November, then “I would feel very bad as a board member if I had [to] cut personnel in lieu of closing down a building.”
During the meeting, WCS Supt. Mindy McCarty-Stewart said the preschool has been successful before in a very active, busy building where other pupils were present.
The superintendent also said data and prior discussions led to the conclusion the district has the current capacity to grow across all grade levels K through 12. There’s also a recognition, she said, that East End “is not the most cost-effective, the most viable building that we want the community to grow in,” and moreover, there are other facility improvement options within reach.
McCarty-Stewart, while saying we are going to be optimistic and hopeful, said one thing enrollment-related that is known is that the birth rate in Ohio “has gone down significantly.”
Bone during the meeting reviewed numbers related to the board’s decision. The district enrollment in 2008-09 (as DHL was just in the process of leaving town) was 3,311 — whereas enrollment in the just-concluded school year was 2,430.
The utilities and maintenance savings from closing East End are projected at $92,080, said Bone.
The deferred maintenance that needs to be done if East End remains open for the upcoming academic year is approximately $180,000, according to Bone.
The original part of East End School was built in 1929 (10,776 square feet); a classrooms addition was constructed in 1954 (5,677 square feet); and more classrooms and a gym were added in 1993 (15,971 square feet).
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.