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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2007

Oregon new special-needs school hinges on vote of council

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's now up to Oregon City Council to decide whether a school for special-needs students should be built off South Wheeling Street.

The Oregon Planning Commission decided last week to recommend that council grant a special-use permit to allow the school to locate on about 4.5 acres in the northern section of the 19.5-acre site owned by the Lutheran Homes Society.

The vote was 4-0. Member Mike White was absent.

The site is now classified as multifamily residential zoning, and the school would be at 175 South Wheeling.

The facility would be managed by LHS Family and Youth Services Inc., a subsidiary of the Lutheran Homes Society, based in Toledo, said Harry Blackmon, executive director.

The house on the land is set for demolition, but the nearby barn built in the 1860s or 1870s will be moved and attached to the school, Mr. Blackmon said. He anticipates using it as a cafeteria.

He said up to 30 students in grades one through 12 could attend the school, which is meant for students with special needs, including those who are handicapped or have emotional or behavioral problems.

There are now 18 students enrolled in the LHS youth services public educational program located a block north in Toledo. Students attend the program five days a week.

"It's a very stable program," Mr. Blackmon said.

Along with a school, there will be a gymnasium, counseling areas, classrooms, and a fenced play area. Meals will be brought into the school, not prepared on site.

The city is classifying the school as a private school, and not a public school, based upon how it gets its funding, city Solicitor Paul Goldberg said at the planning commission meeting.

But officials from LHS said the proposed school is a public one that's funded by tax dollars. Students are not charged to attend the school, which is operated by the Lucas County Educational Service Center in a cooperative effort with LHS.

In addition, Mr. Blackmon said officials are striving to open the school with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate, which is the standard for environmentally conscious, or "green" buildings as determined by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council in Washington.

Council plans to vote on the special-use permit at its March 26 meeting.

If the permit is approved, plans for the school should be submitted soon after, said Mike Rudey, Oregon's zoning inspector.

Though she said she still has some concerns about the students who will be attending the school and concerns with the nearby elderly in the area, Oregon Mayor Marge Brown said she voted to recommend that council approve the special-use permit.

"I voted because we were there just to look at the building itself and the special use," she said. "I know there's a need for that type of place."



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