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Class sizes, school location, key issues at Ochoco Elementary forum

Repair or replace is the key question for Ochoco Elementary School

by: SHELBY CASE/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - About 40 people turned out Thursday night for a meeting to discuss the future of Ochoco Elementary. Key issues facing the school are its location by a state highway, class sizes and the aging building infrastructure.

Attendance was light at a Thursday evening community forum at Ochoco Elementary, with only about 40 people at the session.
   "The growth is an issue," said Crook County School District Superintendent Steve Swisher. "Most likely, next year we will continue to see the growth."
   Key issues at Ochoco are traffic patterns around the school, a lack of parking, class sizes and an aging building. The school was built in 1945.
   Ochoco parent Sonia Hill has a son who is in kindergarten at the school.
   "I was glad to hear that the safety concerns of traffic flow at Ochoco are being addressed," Hill said. She added that it was "recognized that the school is at and over capacity and (that) needs to be remedied."
   The Citizens Facilities Review and Recommendations Committee helped host the meeting to get residents' opinions and questions regarding Ochoco Elementary, and in particular, whether it should be replaced or kept. The committee is reviewing conditions at all of the Crook County schools and will report i orts findings and recommendations to the school board in May possibly June.
   "At some point, you make decisions whether you investigate repair, keep them, or do you get rid of them?" Swisher said.
   After the meeting, Hill commented on what she would prefer.
   "I'm not sure it's viable to keep the school, given some of the structural issues, which is sad because it's a neighborhood school," Hill said. "And it has some craftsmanship that you would not find in a school today."
   She said if one looks at how long it has been a quality building and that it is still being used, and compare that with other schools around Oregon that are five, 10 or 15 years old, they have a lot of maintenance issues.
   "I think just in general we're all a little concerned about tax issues, but (education) is just a priority," Hill said, adding that every school in the district is close to capacity. "It's just a necessity. It's just an absolute necessity."
   Audience members spoke about class size and what would be a better location for the school, among other topics.
   School board member Steve Caraway, who is also an alum of Ochoco Elementary, was among those in attendance. He said that voters have to make smart choices, and said "education is the future of our society."
   "It comes out of each and every one of our pockets," Caraway said, and he said there is a need for new schools.
   Lisa Forbes, who is the Ochoco Parent-Teacher Organization president and who has a second-grader and a fifth-grader at the school, was also in the audience.
   "I thought it was very informative," Forbes said of the meeting. "I know it's very early in the troubleshooting, but I thought it was nice that we got to ask the questions that we wanted to."
   In a response to a question for parental input at the meeting, Forbes said there is no more land available in the Ochoco area that is zoned for a school. She said a new school elsewhere will need to be built.
   "In my eyes, it's worth it for the safety and the classroom size," she said. Forbes said the district would have to rezone the borders for students for busing, but that it would be worth it.
   Forbes said given the building's maintenance and traffic safety issues, a new school is necessary.
   "I think that it would be best to sell the property and take the money and building someplace else," she said.