The sign outside of the current Athens High School
[Silver Barker | WOUB]

Voters will decide on a bond issue to build the new Athens High School this Election Day

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – White ceilings turned brown from water leaks, missing floor chunks and poor ventilation. These are the current conditions of Athens High School.

The Athens City School District’s Board of Education wants to demolish the current high school, which opened in 1968, and build a new one. The new building would cost $58 million.

In order to raise the money, the school board is asking voters to approve a $24 million bond issue on November’s ballot. If the levy is approved, Athens residents will see a 2.06 mill increase in property taxes.

For example, a resident with a home valued at $200,000 would pay $144 a year for the new school, starting in 2025 and running for 30 years. The state will pitch in $28.5 million toward the cost of the new school.

“What I’ve been trying to explain to the community is that this is an opportunity for us to get a brand new high school for not much more than what it would ultimately cost to keep the current high school functioning,” said board member Dave Hayden.

A photo of ceiling of the library at Athens High School with missing pieces and brown-stained parts from water leaks.
A leak in the ceiling of the library at Athens High School. [Silver Barker | WOUB]
However, some Athens residents are upset that the school district is coming back for more money.

In 2018, the district’s initial plan was to improve all of its facilities through a $60.5 million levy approved by voters that year.

A majority of the money was spent on rebuilding or rehabilitating several schools, including East Elementary, Morrison-Gordon Elementary, The Plains Intermediate and Athens Middle School. The district planned to combine the remaining amount with funds it was expecting to receive from the state to build the new high school.

“Basically the district was saying, we’ll go ahead and pay for the pre-K to three buildings … have some money towards the new high school, with the promise that the state would come back later and offer funds,” said Athens Superintendent Tom Gibbs.

But by the time that work was done, and the district was ready to get started on the new high school, it found itself in an expected dilemma.

“COVID hit spring 2020. That’s when we were hoping to get state approval around that time,” said Gibbs. “The state put on hold many state projects including prisons, schools.”

So the district had about $6 million left to spend from the 2018 levy and no funding from the state.

Some Athens residents argue this is enough to do a makeover of the current high school rather than ask residents for more money to build a new one.

Alan McMillan posted a video on YouTube highlighting his concerns about the proposed levy. The video has reached over a thousand views.

“Stop. No more levies. No going out to the community for more money. Six million is a lot of money and they’ve got a lot of deferred maintenance. This is a really important point … and I think what they did was they deferred a lot of this maintenance to justify, well we ought to get rid of this building because it’s old,” McMillan said in an interview.

Gibbs explained that with the sharp rise in inflation and soaring construction costs, $6 million is not enough for the board to make the changes to the existing school that need to be done.

A concept of what the new high school might look like.
A concept of what the new high school might look like. [Athens City School District]
“If it costs $58 million to build a new building that size, $6 million to renovate an existing building isn’t gonna get very far into all of the things that need to be accomplished,” said Gibbs.

Residents remain divided over the levy as some are concerned about the cost while others are concerned about the stability of the existing high school.

Ana Rosada, an Athens resident for 15 years, believes it is time for a new high school.

“If you look at what we would expect from a modern building, that’s not what we’re getting right now,” said Rosada. “We have many issues with ventilation, we have many issues with roof leakage, we have many issues in that building that are inherent to the design — so it’s not maintenance,” she said.

The new high school would be built in the two-level parking lot located in front of the existing high school. New amenities would be added such as an auxiliary gym. If the levy passes, construction on the building would start in 2025 and is expected to take anywhere from 18 to 30 months.