Poland school officials review building options

POLAND — School district administrators are preparing the numbers for several paths into the future.

“We knew that when we failed (to pass) the bond levy, we would get a lot of different feelings,” Poland Superintendent Craig Hockenberry said. “People are not against new (buildings). They were against the cost. We also heard ‘use what we have’ and we heard that a lot.”

After a special board of education meeting last week, Hockenberry came away with three options that need a price tag attached. He is putting the information together to present to the board at a future meeting.

The three options are reopening a building, borrowing funds or a possible smaller bond.

On reopening a building, North Elementary and Poland Union would have to be discussed. North has been closed for eight years and Union for three years.

“We do have two vacant buildings and they are part of the conversation,” Hockenberry said. “To open another building is a big deal.”

He said opening a building that has been closed for a time means opening it at 2024 standards. In addition, depending on the grade or grades being moved, the school would have to take that into consideration in preparing the building.

“North and Union were designed only for elementary grades,” said Poland Director of Operations Matt McKenzie.

Another consideration regarding opening a closed building is the requirement of having WiFi available in each classroom. That would be another expense to be figured into the mix, but there are state funds available to cover 50% of the cost to provide WiFi.

Hockenberry said there have been 34 realignments in Poland since 1972. In many cases, it was because of enrollment numbers. At present, Poland has 1,807 students in the district, which includes those attending Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and in the Dobbins Early Learning Center.

“Four or five years ago, we hit a low point (in student enrollment),” Hockenberry said. “It has been inching upwards over the past few years, but we need to see if it will continue.”

Right now, McKenzie said the district is “running as efficiently as possible.” He said there is room at the middle school if the district would want to repurpose existing rooms such as a teacher lounge being converted into a classroom. There are several areas of the middle school that fit that concept.

That option would maintain the two-campus concept, but would have a price tag attached. That is where options two and three come in.

“Are we going to borrow money, or are we going to go after a smaller bond levy,” Hockenberry said.

He said a lot of what the district needs involves money. The district signed an agreement about a month ago for $1.1 million for paving at Dobbins and at Poland Seminary High School.

“The project will start on the last day of school and be done in time for when the students return for the next school year,” he said.

With that project on the calendar, Hockenberry can turn his attention to the high school, which needs a new roof. The cost is about $3 million. That, coupled with whatever needs done to meet future needs at all the schools, could add up to a hefty price.

Hockenberry said the district could consider a loan. He said it would cost $600,000 for every $9 million borrowed. A $25 million loan would carry a fee of approximately $1.8 million.

“If we borrowed too much, we could be forced to make a minimum payment,” he said. “And if we couldn’t make the minimum, we would have to make cuts. No one seemed interested in borrowing that kind of money.”

That leaves Hockenberry and McKenzie with the task of coming up with numbers for the board that will paint an accurate picture of several possibilities moving forward.

“Our board has been proactive in making sure we don’t overspend,” Hockenberry said. “Our district works hard to maintain a healthy five-year forecast. If we need a year to figure this out and get it right, then let’s do that.”

In the meantime, he said the district’s buildings are not falling down and Poland students are receiving a great education.

“With our good maintenance plan, we can hold the line,” he said.

Have an interesting story? Contact J.T. Whitehouse by email at jtwhitehouse@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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