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Ashland ponders school measure

A group of community members speaking at a forum Tuesday told Ashland School District officials they'd like to see more energy-efficient buildings equipped with climate-control systems and designed to prioritize accessibility and technology.

The meeting, first of the three scheduled, was the district’s first attempt to solicit ideas on what to prioritize in a bond that will potentially appear on the November ballot.

“We will be mindful of what we’ll ask for,” said Jim Westrick, Ashland School District board director. “We’ll look at the needs that would align with Ashland’s values.”

A group of roughly 20 people, including community members, parents, teachers and school board members, sat in small groups Tuesday night in Ashland High School Library to learn what a bond could fund and discuss their concerns and vision for the district.

The need for better heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and for addressing seismic concerns came up frequently during the discussion. Many cited studies that indicate wildfires in the area and the resulting smoke will occur more often and last longer, increasing the need for quality HVAC systems.

“When I taught at Walker, some days in May the temperature in the classroom could reach high 80s,” said Anne Lundgren, a former teacher who serves on the bond committee. “It’s not a productive learning environment.”

District officials also discussed safety on campuses in the wake of the most recent school shooting in Florida.

“After talking to the community stakeholders, safety and security and HVAC have bubbled to the top,” said Jordan Ely, the district’s finance director. “We need to know if those ideas are in alliance with our whole community.”

David Wick, executive director of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, said the district needs to have a comprehensive plan to tackle safety issues on campuses, including addressing mental illness and providing counseling. But Wick, along with many others at the meeting, didn’t advocate for a change in infrastructure to physically improve safety.

“It’s an important issue,” said Tonya Graham, a bond committee member, “But we don’t want to turn our school into a prison-like environment. … We need to walk that fine line where we have schools that feel good to be at, but we still have the tools to navigate situations.”

Suggestions to make buildings on campuses more energy efficient also came up often, as many advocated for solar panel installation and making campuses more aligned with the city’s Climate and Energy Action Plan.

Many community members at the meeting said they are happy with the current infrastructure in Ashland School District, with the Commons area in Ashland Middle School being praised as a well-designed space that connects students.

Lundgren, who has two children in school in Ashland, said the district also needs to think of how to better integrate technology into buildings, as technology has grown to be more important and relevant in the classrooms.

“Right now it just feels like an afterthought,” she said. “Kids who are coming in now have a whole new level of understanding of technology. … We have to figure out how to navigate and support that.”

Ashland School District last asked its voters for a bond of $46.8 million in 2006 to rebuild Bellview Elementary School and renovate the Ashland High School gym, among other projects.

“The Ashland community has been extremely generous with us,” Westrick said at the meeting, explaining that without the bond passed more than a decade ago, Ashland would have not been able to complete those projects with its general fund.

Now, with a new bond cycle approaching, the district is asking what the community wants to further invest in, School Board Chair Deneice Covert-Zeve said.

“We try to be as transparent as possible, and we believe in this process” Covert-Zeve said. “That’s why we take the time to this while other districts don’t even consider it.”

The Ashland School Board appointed a bond committee of 25 members in July 2017. The group met once a week in 2017 and will be meeting every two weeks until May. The committee doesn't have any proposed project or an estimate of how much the bond will be, members said.

Westrick said the committee hopes to complete its recommendation and suggest the bond amount by May or June for the School Board to vote on.

The district will hold two other forums: from noon to 1:30 pm. Saturday, March 3, and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.