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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2001

Commission proposes rebuilding Lake schools

If a state assessment is correct, the Lake Local School District is due for some new school buildings within the next decade.

Wayne Colman, planning manager at the Ohio School Facilities Commission, spoke to the Lake board of education in a special meeting yesterday afternoon to review a proposal to replace its aging elementary and junior high schools, and renovate and expand the high school.

If the district agrees to the conditions of the Classroom Facility Assistance Program, the state would cover 25 percent of the estimated $38 million cost, Mr. Colman said.

His “master plan” shows the district abandoning Lake and Walbridge elementary schools, the Millbury administration building, and Lake junior high. A single elementary school would be built.

Plans are progressing toward a middle school building, financed by a 4.95-mill bond issue voters approved in November. The bonds are expected to raise $14.8 million over 25 years, but a district-wide renovation would require a much larger levy or bond issue - a prospect that's already proven unpopular with district voters.

Taxpayers in the 1,200-student district in May rejected a 1.4-mill replacement tax levy designed to maintain the buildings it already owns.

If the board adopts the state program, one-fourth of the cost of the new middle school would be credited toward the master plan total, the board was told.

Aside from the tax question, board secretary Nancy Heckman said residents wouldn't take kindly to abandoning school buildings that are part of the local landscape.

“They know those buildings. They went to school there themselves,” Ms. Heckman said.

“It's an emotional issue, a real tough one,” Mr. Colman said. “You have to pose the question as a matter of dollars and cents - you ask the taxpayer how long he wants to keep plugging money into these old buildings.

“Show him how often you have to keep coming back and asking him for more. It's a sort of marketing program,” he said.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission was established in 1997 as the state's largest-ever capital improvement project, Mr. Colman said. It ranked the state's 612 public school districts according to their tax base, enrollment, and facilities, and began helping the poorest, least-maintained districts first.

Lake Local will not come up for a full assessment and funding until 2009 or 2010, but the proposed “expedited program” would enable it to credit ongoing improvements toward that deadline, and prevent the district from making costly improvements on buildings destined for the wrecking ball.

The Ohio program is financed partly with tobacco lawsuit settlement money, and it spends about $1.5 million per day, Mr. Colman said.

Board member Tim Delong asked Jeffrey Fullerman, project manager from Regency Construction Services, Inc., to see whether the middle school plans fall within the state project guidelines. Meantime, he said, the board can mull over the state's offer.

“We can do [school maintenance] in bits and pieces. We can delay doing anything,” he said.

“We can decide not to accept the master plan.”

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