Licking County Students Deal With Deteriorating Building As Voters Reject School Levies

Dec 4, 2019

Winter may start in just a few weeks, but inside the 105-year old Hebron Elementary School building in Licking County, some days can still feel like summer.

Ceiling fans spin above a first-grade classroom as students sit on the floor and try to concentrate on reading.

“The temperature plays a key role in wanting to pass the bond,” says first grade teacher Amy McCartney. “But it’s the secondary things that happen because of the temperature. Again, there’s mold, there’s moisture, it’s those reasons why. Even I take two allergy pills a day because of being in this building.”

The district's superintendent contends there's no confirmed mold in the building.

Voters last month rejected a levy to replace Hebron Elementary, but the building's problems are getting worse. Next spring, administrators in Licking County’s Lakewood school district will take a bond levy to the ballot for the fourth time in less than two years.

McCartney says that classroom temperatures can top 80 degrees. The building uses a boiler system that struggles to regulate itself. McCartney opens windows as often as she can for relief.

First grade teacher Amy McCartney reads with first-grader Logan Spurrier.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Teacher Rebecca Hayes travels to six different classrooms every day to help students learn to read. She says teachers do their best to decorate their rooms to hide water leaks, old pipes and cracked floors.

“The attention of the students is hard to sustain simply because we have fans blowing all of the time, or we have water leaking all of the time, or you know, like our building just always has noise from all of the things that are breaking or the things that are wrong with it,” Hayes says.

There are no restrooms on the second floor, and the building is not ADA compliant for people with disabilities. A lift installed on the staircase transports wheelchair-using or injured students between the basement and second floor.

“This building, I would describe it as a tank,” says superintendent Mary Kay Andrews.

Hallway in basement of Hebron Elementary.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Andrews says there is only so much they can do to make the 1914 building functional in the 21st century.

“Currently we have one building, it’s 105 years old that houses our kindergarten, first and second graders,” Andrews says. “Our students then transfer to another building that is only third grade. And then they go to another building that’s fourth and fifth grade.”

Andrews says combining all K-5 graders into one building would be more efficient.

“Our maintenance staff right now between this building and the buildings at Jackson Intermediate, we spend a lot of time and effort and money just keeping this running, and we just want to do the right thing for our taxpayers and for our kids,” Andrews says.

The right thing, Andrews says, would include passing the bond levy going back on the ballot next March, which would raise more than $31 million for a new school. For homeowners, it would mean about $133 a year in new taxes for every $100,000 of home value.

At Pal Printing in Hebron, owner Phil Lewis voted for the levy last time. Now he questions whether all of the money is necessary.

“It sounds like it’s an awful lot of money to build a new school. I mean, you’ve got all of these empty buildings over in the industrial park which you could probably buy something and turn it into a school or something,” Lewis says.

Tree art covers up pipes in the corner of a classroom at Hebron Elementary.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Lewis says raising taxes could hurt older residents living on fixed incomes. Some relief is on the way, though: An old bond levy to build the high school expires in 2026. That will save property owners about $60 a year on a $100,000 home.

Other critics of the levy have pointed to what they called financial mismanagement by the district, including the recent construction of a new high school football stadium.

Bethany White, a parent of two elementary school students, says she understands some long-time residents may be reluctant to lose the old building, but it is time for change.

“Historically, I think it’s awesome,” White says. “I’m a fan of history and my kids are the fifth generation in this building, so I think that there’s kind of a special factor to that. But the bigger priority is that this is not a good educational environment for them in this century.” 

In her classroom, McCartney tears up thinking about her students staying in an unfit school building.

“It’s important for these guys because they’re the ones who pay for it day to day,” McCartney says.