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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2008

Saving Scott High School

FROM the time Toledo Public Schools embarked on its massive state-aided school construction program in 2001, the plan provided for renovation of Scott High School rather than demolishing the distinctive, 96-year-old piece of educational architecture and putting up something new.

Given widespread support for renovation within the Scott community, and the benefit to Toledo of retaining as many historic buildings as possible, there is no compelling reason to substantially alter that goal.

When the board revisits the issue at a meeting later this month, when a decision is due, Scott, which was named for 19th-century Blade editor Jesup W. Scott and is TPS's oldest building, must be saved from the wrecking ball.

This can be accomplished if the Ohio School Facilities Commission lets the Toledo Board of Education tear down newer sections of the building - such as the 1999 cafeteria - while at least retaining its landmark facade.

A school board building-program committee expects to meet with OSFC officials tomorrow, and we implore the agency to reduce the district's burden and help TPS save this historic school, even if it means bending the state's overly restrictive rules.

Between 1990 and 2000, TPS spent some $6 million in upgrades at Scott, including a new roof, field house and gym floors, and boiler. It would be senseless for the state to require entirely new construction if there are still many years of life left in these improvements.

The school board has been toying with dropping Scott from the state-funded portion of its Building for Success program so it can gain the financial flexibility to renovate the stately building in its own time frame. TPS previously moved work on several buildings, including Harvard elementary and Waite High School, into a sixth construction segment to be funded entirely with local money.

Such action would free the board from the guidelines of OSFC, under which the construction program - now scaled back from $820 million to $660 million - is being completed.

As is almost always the case with anything to do with schools, the issue comes down to money - how to pay the local share of restoration costs, especially now that enrollment in the Scott district has drastically declined and a larger building is unnecessary.

If Scott stays within the state program, the scope of renovation approved by OSCF would cost $39 million; $25 million would come from the state. The district would have to pay the other $14 million, which it does not have.

The enrollment decline and state requirements help to explain what's at stake. Built to house 2,000 students, Scott enrolled 1,400 in 2001. Today, it has about 950. Under state rules, the drop reduces the amount the state would pay and increases the local obligation.

At this point there are limited options to keeping Scott within OSFC, whose restrictions compel the board to refurbish to the point that the building is virtually new, or rebuild. There is no in-between.

Otherwise, the board could remove the Scott project from the state program and renovate it as local money becomes available.

There's the rub. Those in the Scott community are leery, and rightfully so, that removing the building from the state program would mean restoration would no longer be a priority. To many, that means it will get done, some day, if ever.

Although several other schools not in the state program will also be redone, Superintendent John Foley said it was never clearly defined several years ago how those projects would be paid for. An idea, he said, is to use the locally collected $2.5 million capital improvement funds from a levy that was last renewed in 2005. That would let officials pursue renovation, as funds are available.

Demolishing the architecturally distinctive Scott would be unthinkable. In 2012, the alumni and community should be able to celebrate its centennial in a newly renovated building. The OSFC can help relieve TPS of the financial burden and make that happen.



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