By Jeff Gallatin
District leaders continue to take steps toward developing concrete plans for better facilities in the North Olmsted City Schools.
Superintendent Mike Zalar outlined these steps Thursday in the district’s annual state of the schools address to the North Olmsted Chamber of Commerce at the Radission Hotel. In addition, the school board unanimously approved at its Feb. 19 regular meeting hiring Architectural Vision Group Ltd., of Westlake, to provide master planning and renovation study services for the district. The board also approved at the meeting a new strategic plan for the district, that includes several portions pertaining to facilities.
In speaking to the chamber, Zalar said he wanted to highlight facilities as a major part of the address.
“Most of our schools were built in the 1960s,” Zalar said. “The middle school is the oldest building in the district. It was originally constructed in 1930, right after the stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. Over the years as the community grew, numerous classroom additions were added to nearly all the schools. The middle school has the record, with eight additions, just in time for Woodstock, the Apollo moon landing and the first computer.”
Zalar said the district has done a great job in maintaining the facilities, saying they look solid from the outside, but adding that looks can be deceiving, saying that what matters is what’s going on inside the buildings, saying its not a pretty sight.
Asked after the speech for examples of facility issues, he noted that some buildings have buckets catching water from leaks, while also noting upgrading them to handle 21st-century technology would not be simple.
“You can’t just drill a hole in the wall to put it in,” he said.
Zalar noted that the district’s 2020 Initiative calls for the development of a new facilities master plan. Zalar and district officials have put together a committee that he said will take an objective look at the way district schools are being utilized and develop a plan that will serve as a blueprint for the future design and operation of the district.
“This includes evaluating the quality of our existing structures and measuring the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their operation,” Zalar said. “It also means taking a look at our building and grade level configurations to see if there are opportunities to improve our instructional program while reducing waste through economies of scale. The world has changed dramatically since the most recent district plan was developed … We need to take the initiative and develop a new plan that will allow us to leverage our resources to our greatest advantage.
“This will require strategic thinking,” he said. “We will need to think about whether it is more cost-effective to replace a building rather than just renovate. We will also have to consider the safety and technological infrastructure needs that are necessary to support the kind of twenty-first century learning environments students need today.”
Zalar said he doesn’t have the answer and has no specific plan in mind.
“I know that many ideas have been proposed in the past. I am not advocating for any particular solution. It is very important to take an objective look at the data from a perspective of inquiry as opposed to advocacy. We need to ask the right questions and have the courage to go where the data leads us.”
Zalar said he hopes the new facility committee’s work is done during the spring, so the school board has time to consider options for the coming school year.
In other portions of the speech, he promised that the district will maintain its efforts to keep it a premier learning community, while lauding district staff and students for being ranked either “Excellent” or “Excellent With Distinction” for the past seven years. He singled out two students attending the luncheon, fourth-grader Noah Fraley from Maple Intermediate School and North Olmsted High School senior Brad Novak. Fraley has a 4.0 grade point average, is a student council member and volunteers with several community groups. Novak has a 4.29 GPA, was a standout quarterback for the Eagle’s football team and is a first-team member of the Academic All-Ohio football team.
He also said it will continue to strive to be good stewards of funds provided to run the district. He lauded his predecessor, interim Superintendent Terry Krivak, for formulating the Vision 2020 plan, which laid the foundation for the 2020 Initiative Plan this year.
Zalar’s address drew positive reactions afterward.
“As Dr. Zalar presented in his address, the state of the North Olmsted City School District continues to be dynamic, progressive and strong,” John Lasko, president of the school board, said. “Despite the headwinds that the district has encountered, such as the adverse effects of the housing crisis and the weak economy, as well as new and extensive mandates from Washington and Columbus, the district continues to deliver an outstanding education to our children while at the same time focusing on economic and operational efficiencies. The implementation of the district’s strategic plan, known as the 2020 Initiative, that just was completed under Dr. Zalar’s leadership, will position the district for continued success for years to come.”
Jeff Herwick, president of the chamber of commerce, who has agreed to serve on the new facilities committee, said Zalar made a good presentation.
“It was very clear, focused and addressed how all this will affect the community and the school district,” he said.