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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2002

Findlay schools seek input on renovation

FINDLAY - The Board of Education wants to hear what Findlay taxpayers have to say about a $127 million proposal from the Ohio School Facilities Commission to overhaul its buildings.

The plan calls for building three middle schools, closing an elementary school, and renovating most other buildings so that all are air-conditioned, handicapped accessible, and outfitted with sprinkler systems.

Unlike other area school districts, though, the state would pay just 24 percent of the cost, or about $30 million. Findlay residents would have to pick up the remaining $96 million or so.

Findlay Superintendent Robert Lotz said that would translate into about a 9-mill bond issue for 25 years.

“Our buildings, age-wise, are very similar to Lima's, and therefore, the cost of replacement and doing what we're doing is very similar to what theirs is,” he said.

The difference?

“They are getting 90 cents on a dollar. That one I could go out and sell,” Mr. Lotz said.

Beginning with the poorest school districts in the state, the Ohio School Facilities Commission works with districts to renovate existing buildings or build new state-of-the-art ones. So far, it has worked with 129 of Ohio's 612 school districts.

Lima City Schools are in the midst of a $116 million overhaul, with the state paying 89 percent of the tab.

Continental Local Schools in Putnam County completed one of the first such projects, with the state paying 89 percent of the $14.6 million cost.

Rick Savors, spokesman for the facilities commission, said the early projects were easy to sell to voters because their share was so small.

“We're still paying, on average, 80 to 81 percent of those projects. That's still a good portion,” Mr. Savors said. “We suspect that we'll have a tougher row to hoe when we get up into those districts where the percentage is lower.”

Findlay is one of those. Current schedules call for it to be eligible for funding in 2008. The district has two years to decide whether it's interested.

“I'm just listening,” Mr. Lotz said when asked whether he thought the project was do-able.

The larger-than-expected proposal was outlined to the board Monday. Mr. Lotz said the board was surprised the state felt Findlay High School and its vocational facilities would require $49 million worth of improvements.

“That was the area that probably shocked us the most,” he said. “We felt we have put a lot of money into that facility.”

He said the board was not surprised the state recommended closing its three middle schools and Washington Intermediate School. All had been identified as buildings that needed to be renovated or replaced.

Mr. Lotz said several less ambitious proposals could be considered, though they would have to be funded locally. The state has strict guidelines for replacing and renovating buildings, meaning the district could not pick and choose what improvements it wanted to make.

“You're not required to do it, but if you do, you have to play by their rules,” Mr. Lotz said.

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