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Educators try to make do in old, cramped quarters



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



New construction in the district will have to wait, officials say.

By AMANDA C. DAVIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

MESOPOTAMIA -- Karen Palo isn't complaining.

Just give her a little paint, some wallpaper and a border, and she'll whip her elementary school basement classroom into shape.

The special-education teacher in the Bloomfield-Mespo school district teaches in the basement because the school is running out of room.

And to make the best of the situation, Palo said, she spruces up the room each year to make it inviting for pupils.

"I've tried to be very positive and make the room very comfortable for my kids," Palo said. "We're dealing with things the best we can and I'm actually quite proud I was able to make [the space] usable."

The district's two schools are not in the best shape, and officials learned recently they've been passed over by the Ohio School Facilities Commission for this year's round of funding.

Superintendent Ken Halbert said the district is in line for $13 million because the state has determined both schools need to be rebuilt.

Many problems: Lack of space is just one of many issues.

"We have a lot of problems," the superintendent said. "Kids are safe, but the buildings are not conducive to quality progressive education."

Just ask Sharon Simkins.

She'll be teaching kindergarten in the fall in a makeshift classroom that once was a small cafeteria. It is directly above Palo's classroom.

Simkins, a 26-year district veteran, describes the room as "long and not very wide at all."

A bigger concern, she said, is that the art and music programs do not have homes.

Instead, the art and music teachers load up their supplies several times a day and move back and forth to classrooms as they become available.

The Bloomfield and Mesopotamia school districts consolidated 20 or more years ago, Simkins said. The district serves about 415 pupils, with kindergarten through fifth grade housed at the elementary school on Kinsman Road and sixth through 12th grades at the junior-senior high school on Park Road in North Bloomfield.

Halbert said the elementary school was built around 1900 and the high school about 20 years later.

Today, a lack of space is leading teachers, administrators and staff members to find creative ways to accommodate pupils.

Program additions: Simkins said the district's annual enrollment hasn't changed much in recent years, but he noted space is in short supply because of the addition of a preschool and an expanded program for learning-disabled pupils.

Halbert, former principal of Boardman Center Middle School, said the Bloomfield-Mespo district is fiscally sound despite being one of Ohio's poorer districts.

Voters passed a 5-mill emergency operating levy in 2000 to help fund schools, and Halbert said he's confident voters again will be supportive when the district asks them to approve a bond issue in 2002 or 2003 for the local portion of the OSFC project.

The State Controlling Board decided in June which districts would get a piece of this year's $525 million for construction and improvements. An OSFC eligibility list ranks districts based on per-pupil tax valuations over three years.

Halbert said space in both buildings is inadequate, there aren't enough classrooms, there are cracks in both buildings' foundations and the roof on the gym at the junior-senior high school is 30 years old.

Scheduling is challenge: Also, teachers find themselves swapping classrooms often, and space restrictions make scheduling a nightmare.

"You almost have to schedule bathroom breaks," Simkins said, explaining that aside from a small bathroom for kindergarten pupils, the elementary school has one girls' and one boys' bathroom to serve 250 youngsters.

Three lunch periods help to move pupils through the small cafeteria, Simkins said.

The district attached a trailer to the elementary building to add space several years ago.

"Parents understand we're working with what we have," Simkins said.

The two schools are preparing for the Aug. 29 start of the school year.

Palo said her room was once a locker room, art room and storage space, and windows were painted over years ago.

Halbert said dehumidifiers and fans were set up in the basement to keep the mold spore count down and to provide a healthful learning environment.

"We need to do better for our children," Palo said.

davis@vindy.com




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