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Board settles on renovating Turtle Creek school

By Peggy Conrad, Staff Writer
Gateway Newspapers
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Woodland Hills School Board last week decided not to follow the recommendation of the ad-hoc committee that was formed to study whether to rebuild or renovate East Junior High School in Turtle Creek.
At a special meeting on May 2, the committee recommended creating detailed and comparable design plans, one each for a renovated structure and a new building, and that the board commit to the least expensive option.

At the next day’s agenda-setting meeting, the board voted 5-3 to no longer pursue a new building and to have renovation plans developed in further detail.

Members Linda Cole, Randy Lott and Colleen Filiak voted to follow the recommendation of the committee; member Fred Kuhn was absent. A public meeting of the board and architects will be scheduled to determine the extent of the renovation.

“The board needs to meet and define what that renovation might be,” said Cynthia Lowery, board president.

“We can create the most beautiful plans, but if we don’t have a plan that has the majority of support of the board, it’s wasted. It’s time to start looking at ‘What does the board and the Woodland Hills community support?’ I have to get five votes,” she said.

Lowery’s initial inclination was to follow the recommendation of the committee, but during discussion, it was apparent that other board members were hesitant or opposed to doing that.

“If I had voted the other way, the board would have been split,” she said. “I went with where I felt we could come to a consensus. I just don’t think we can continue arguing about it indefinitely.”

Lott agreed with the committee, saying the board needs to further define its options.

“We don’t have enough comparable information to make a rational decision …. We need to take a step back and do some specs and define for us some comparable plans,” he said prior to the vote.

The options now are a complete renovation that would update the building to meet current educational standards or a limited renovation including needed repairs.

One of the main issues is whether to include a swimming pool, as the ad-hoc committee strongly recommended, to offer equitable instruction to all junior high students.

The $500,000 cost cited by a committee member is much too low, said Lowery. The cost for a new pool would be closer to $1.5 to $2 million, according to the architect.

Board member William Driscoll asserted the district had not done enough long-range planning to determine if the population 15 years from now would support a junior high school in Turtle Creek designed to hold 400 students.

“I’m not convinced that we need to do much more than what needs to be done to maintain the existing East Junior High School,” Driscoll said.

Andreas Dometakis of HHSDR Architects said immediate needs in the next five years include handicapped-accessibility, improving ventilation, re-moving asbestos and addressing structural issues and water leakage.

The state has directed districts to upgrade buildings to current educational standards within a certain period or risk losing reimbursement, he said.

Previously, HHSDR said a new building would cost $20.3 million, renovating would cost $21.5 million and a combined junior high school for all seventh- and eighth-graders would cost about $30 million.

Board member Robert Tomasic continued to assert that a combined junior high at the site of the administration building would be more convenient, equitable and save on future operating costs.

Board member Robert Clanagan said he was willing to go with the recommendation of the committee since it was a community decision.

Cole said the board’s facilities committee basically came up with same solution as the ad-hoc committee.

Board member Marilyn Messina said the ad-hoc committee did admirable work, but the board should have had many more meetings on the issue because of the divided reaction from the community.

Filiak said she still leans toward renovation, but mechanical problems need to be addressed.

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