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(Yi-Ke Peng/WOUB)

City Council’s Resolution On School Facilities Plan Postponed

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ATHENS — Some members of Athens City Council attempted to make a statement about the as-yet incomplete city school district’s facilities plan’s “impact,” but saw the resolution postponed indefinitely.

Councilwoman Michele Papai read the resolution during Monday’s regular meeting, which stated “changing the existing Athens City School District facilities will represent a historic shift in K-12 education in this city.”

Papai said council had received “correspondents,” one from school board member Rusty Rittenhouse and others from constituents referencing the school district facilities plan.

“There’s no ulterior motive in terms of bringing this resolution forward other than to express my feelings and the feelings of others…regarding the planning process,” Papai said.

No decisions have been made on a facilities plan for the district, but at the last school board meeting, an architect met with the board to discuss different options in breaking up the elementary and middle schools.

The discussion included talk of land at The Ridges, currently owned by Ohio University, but school officials were not confident they would be able to get enough land from the university to comfortably house an elementary school campus.

The district has been weighing its options since a steering committee presented their final recommendations in March, which included three options they felt were best for the schools. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson was a member of the steering committee.

The resolution presented by Papai at Monday’s meeting argued that because the comprehensive plan for the city will include district property, and because the council “guides city planning, economic and infrastructure improvements,” the district should use data and information from the city’s commissions and committees in moving the facilities plan forward.

Other city council members had a different view of the resolution. They and several members of the public who spoke questioned the appropriateness of presenting the resolution before the facilities plan was finalized.

“I’m unclear what problem we’re trying to solve with this resolution,” Council member Arian Smedley said. “What I would prefer to see is something with more of a spirit of collaboration than what has been presented tonight.”

Members of the public also spoke about the need for a school system that is equitable, and how nuanced the issue of schools facilities is.

Councilmember Chris Fahl defended the resolution.

“This is just saying to the school board that there are a lot of people who are not feeling included, and ultimately that may not be good for the facility outcome,” Fahl said.

After hearing from the public and other councilmembers, Peter Kotses asked the council to postpone the resolution’s passage indefinitely.

Three councilmembers — Smedley, Kotses and Jeffrey Risner — voted to postpone the matter, and Fahl, Papai and Kent Butler voted against postponement. Council president Chris Knisely was the tie-breaking vote, deciding to side with postponement.

“I understand and I do believe Councilmember Papai’s intent behind this resolution is very sincere,” Knisely said. “However, I do believe in the vested interest and responsibilities of the Athens City School Board for doing their planning process and to give them the time and the confidence that we have in their process.”

The school board has until April to finalize their facilities plan.