Wooster Schools facilities master planning moves forward

Wooster Schools facilities master planning moves forward
Elizabeth Schuster

This building served as Wooster High School from 1923-94 and since then as Cornerstone Elementary. How long the building can be expected to last is one of the topics being addressed in the district's master plan concerning school facilities.


The Wooster City School District is facilitating a master planning process to determine how to best meet growing community needs. The first step in the process is gathering input on future school building options.

The school district is planning for a 30-year horizon. Outgoing superintendent of the district, Dr. Michael Tefs — who recently accepted the superintendent position at Revere Local Schools in Summit County — offered some explanation on the importance of looking three decades into the future.

“Of course, we want to look out as far as we can since our last round of renovations lasted 30 years,” Tefs said.

That said, there are many drivers that motivate the district to start planning now.

“The first motivation is increase in population,” Tefs said. “We have to realize that in a master plan — and it is just a plan, it won't be actualized until we need the space — we need to be ready for growth and embrace this growth. We have, at a conservative figure, 500-700 new students approaching the district in the next three to five years.”

Such growth in the community can help maintain the quality of life for residents in Wooster including supporting businesses and expanding the workforce.

“Right now, businesses are screaming for human capital,” Tefs said. “This growth in housing isn't an accident. It's a strategic partnership with Wayne Economic Development Council, the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Wooster to bring affordable housing. There are people in Wooster that might move to the new housing, and that will open up affordable housing.”

Additionally, some existing concerns helped motivate the push for master planning. Tefs gave a few examples:

“What is Cornerstone going to look like in 30 years? There are parts of Cornerstone that are struggling today,” he said. “Even when we think of Parkview, Edgewood, Melrose — they are not air-conditioned. We need to think about these issues.”

Three scenarios

The Wooster City School District facilities master planning process is still in the early stages. Community sessions are planned to get feedback from Wooster residents through August, and additional sessions are scheduled to get staff input as well.

There are three scenarios with various options for school buildings that have been proposed — meant to be conversation starters and to generate discussion and input from the community.

All three involve eliminating the four current elementaries and the middle school in favor of new buildings, along with a renovation of Wooster High School. One favors building two new schools (one elementary, one middle school), while the other two would have two new elementary schools and a new middle school.

“This is something that we really want public input on,” said Sue Herman, current president of the Wooster City Schools Board of Education. “This is not just the school district's master plan. This is our community's master plan, and our community is highly invested in the education process. And we want their feedback ahead of time. We want, and need, people to be invested in this. This is our plan. The best things come out of a process where we're all working toward a common goal.”

Tefs reinforced the concept that the three options for building scenarios are designed to create dialogue. “They were only set to curate the conversation around how many buildings at a minimum we would need in Wooster,” he said. “There are districts with only one building, but we don't want to go that route here. Three would be minimum. We do have a fourth option also, where it's a blank slate. We are collecting data that we receive from all of the community meetings.”

School board member Bill Gantz, now retired from a 40-year career building schools, said there is a consulting firm helping with the planning process. He also said the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission has a manual with best practices for design that sets the standards for what is needed for a school building.

Where public input is needed is on number of buildings and the configuration. “The public's input is on grade level versus neighborhood schools,” Gantz said. “A good example is our middle school, which is for grades 5, 6 and 7. Our elementary schools are still neighborhood level. If you go back in time, Wooster had eight elementary schools at one time, but we are now down to four. Things have changed, and we no longer group people by the closest school.”

Moving forward

With Tefs leaving, Gabe Tudor, previous assistant superintendent of Wadsworth City Schools, will take on the role as new superintendent of Wooster City Schools on July 1. Community members might be curious if the transition in leadership will have any impact on the facilities master planning process.

“I wouldn't anticipate a lot of changes,” Herman said. “I know Mr. Tudor is excited by the master plan and looks forward to being part of it. He's going to be meeting with the master planning committee in the near future. He knows this is a priority for the district.”

Others may be wondering how large capital planning projects such as this may be funded.

“Several other school districts have done this in the county,” Tefs said. “But what I say, just look at Triway — they were able to pass $60 million (for new schools). We expect to fund about 69% locally and 31% from state funding.”

There are still opportunities to attend community-engagement sessions. For more information on the different scenarios and for upcoming sessions, go to www.woostercityschools.org/district/content-page/facilities-master-plan.

“We learn something new at every community meeting and from very different audiences,” Tefs said. “Right now we're just starting the conversation. I would never want the community to think we've already decided on plan one, two or three.”

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