School board members were right to delay the vote on whether to move ahead with construction of a new elementary school on Tuesday. But they should give the idea strong consideration.
It’s not surprising there were objections. People are attached to the schools their children, and in many cases they themselves, attended. Some have asked why buildings that have served for generations should be abandoned.
Simply put, old does not equal good. Small does not equal good. The reverse is true in both cases as well.
The reality is that any building fights a losing battle against time. There is a point where maintenance becomes more than routine. It becomes an anchor, weighing on both the ability to use the building and on the budget of the owner. Many of the buildings in the Ottumwa school district are at that point.
Hard decisions need to be made. We understand the resistance to change. Places where people attended classes during their formative years often hold a near-sacred place in their hearts. When they are closed, sold, or otherwise altered irrevocably, it’s painful. We’re seeing many of the same emotions connected to the demolition of St. Joseph Hospital, though there are of course other issues tied in with that situation.
But much of the opposition is knee-jerk rather than well-considered. It’s a response to a perceived threat to people’s memories, not a thorough assessment of the situation. That assessment has been carried out by the district’s facility committee.
There are details that must be determined before the school board moves ahead. Saying “we’re going to build a new school, somewhere,” isn’t good enough. The public needs to know where. When Liberty was proposed, it was unmistakable where it would go. There are several obvious potential sites, though none with the kind of head-and-shoulders lead present when Liberty was proposed.
Short of the purchase of land, which would likely be much more costly now that area landowners know the district is looking at construction, every site will have challenges. The district needs to explain how it will overcome the hurdles sites have.
Until those questions have answers, we will reserve judgement.
If it decides to build, the district needs to make its case. It needs to give the community a sales pitch that explains the needs and rationales. Make no mistake, this is a sales job. And if the district concludes a new school is needed, it needs to approach it as such.
That pitch, if it comes, deserves to be heard with open minds. We encourage people to be willing to listen, to honestly consider the issues, and to reach conclusions once the information is available.
This is an important decision for the district’s future. Ottumwa will be better served if it is made with cool heads rather than in the midst of heated arguments.