North High School teachers say Akron school desperately needs replacement
North High School teachers, alumni and others showed up to the Akron Board of Education meeting Monday night, arguing the building, the oldest parts of which are more than 90 years old, is in desperate need of replacement.
Teachers reported dealing with failing heating and cooling systems, collapsing ceilings, pests like roaches, and health issues resulting from the building’s poor conditions. The concern came as community members - and the board - toured the building over the weekend as part of a "Rally to Rebuild" demonstration, meant to encourage the board to prioritize the building's replacement.
Lindsey Trivisonno, an early childhood education pathway teacher, said replacing the building needs to be a top priority.
"Would you be okay knowing that your 15-year-old could get hit in the head with a wet ceiling tile? (Or) your 18 year old spending the last four years surrounded by asbestos? I'm sure the answer to this question is no," Trivisonno said.
Emily Rydzinski, a ninth-grade math teacher at North High School, said she was in the hospital last year and was placed on oxygen. After getting back in the classroom, she said leaks and falling ceiling tiles in her classroom caused further health issues for her.
"The dripping water and dust from the ceiling tile that probably contains asbestos made it harder to breathe," she said.
She added she was concerned for her students from immigrant families, who might not have the language skills to speak out about the problematic school conditions. North High School is a rare example of a high school with growing enrollment at Akron Public Schools, thanks in part to an influx of refugees in the city's northern side in recent years.
Those attending the meeting also asked the board not to tie replacement of the building to a possible levy to be approved by voters. Board President Derrick Hall said that with district looking at $175 million in facility needs at North High School and other facilities like the Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, a levy alone isn't going to be enough, although he didn't state outright if the district could cover the $80 million anticipated replacement cost of North High School without a levy.
The school board has for months reviewed plans for replacement of those buildings, and the latest iteration of plans had tied replacement of North High School to passage of a levy.
He says he’s had early conversations with presumptive Akron Mayor Shammas Malik about pooling resources between the school district and the city.
"There has to be more robust, more intentional partnership between these two entities to ensure that our kids are getting what they need," he said.
So far, the Akron Board of Education has heard from concerned parents, teachers and stakeholders at a number of schools as the district considers a series of facilities replacements and swaps. Kenmore neighborhood residents were concerned about the district's continued erosion of the number of schools in that neighborhood. Miller South staff were worried about what the closure of that building would mean for its unique grade four-through-eight model. And parents and teachers were upset about suggested plans to move the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School out of its current building into Leggett Community Learning Center, thus displacing those students and staff as well.
The board has stressed that it has not made any decisions yet on facilities plans. Hall said Monday that the board is looking to make its first decision on the matter in late June. Hall said that would likely be a vote on whether to move forward with building a new school in the Kenmore neighborhood. The Board has previously explored putting that potential school building, meant to house Pfeiffer Elementary School students and Miller South students, at the current location of the old Kenmore High School building.
The Board has previously discussed the potential need for two levies, one to help fund replacement of North High School, and another to help fund operations. The Board heard an update Monday night on the district's five-year financial forecast, which showed the district spending at a $6.5 million deficit next fiscal year, following by a $37 million deficit in the next year.