Third-graders and school and city officials wielded shiny shovels yesterday to usher in the Toledo Public Schools' Building for Success program.
The groundbreaking at Ottawa River Elementary yesterday afternoon was the first in the 10-year, $800 million construction program approved by voters last fall.
“Students in Toledo Public Schools deserve the best,” Superintendent Eugene Sanders told about 150 people. “With the new buildings, they will have the best.”
But with construction not set to begin until next spring, and with no contractor picked, one critic said the event was staged to support the impending levy.
Twila Page, a member of the Urban Coalition, a group that has been critical of the district, attended the groundbreaking to see what was going on. Ms Page said it was “kind of strange” to have the groundbreaking ceremony when the school will not open for at least two years.
“It's staged to bring out the levy vote,” she said.
On Nov. 4, voters in the district will be asked to approve a 6.5-mill renewal levy.
School board member David Welch said the upcoming levy factored into the board's decision to hold a groundbreaking ceremony, but the main goal was to let the community know that the district is making progress with the building.
“We've been meeting on this for over a year, and we wanted to get something out there to let people know we're moving forward with this project,” Mr. Welch said.
Designs for the Ottawa River school are complete and the district plans to start accepting construction bids for the school by January and begin construction by early spring, officials said.
The groundbreaking will be one of several over the next few weeks, said Dan Burns, chief business manager for the district. Mr. Burns said one will be held in each of the district's seven learning communities over the next few weeks.
By 2012, 57 new schools will be built and seven will be upgraded.
The new buildings will have larger classrooms and be ADA-compliant. Each classroom will have five computers, which take up as much space as eight students, Mr. Burns said.
Also, any roofs more than 15 years old are automatically replaced, and plumbing and electrical wiring may be replaced as well, he said.
Point Place's Ottawa River Elementary has 262 students now.
The new 45,000-square-foot school will hold 360 students, Principal Jeff Taylor said.
“We cannot wait to get into the new building and educate the kids,” he said.
Some city residents are not as excited.
The Urban Coalition has said it wants a moratorium on the school construction program.
The school was chosen as the site for the ceremony because it is in the first phase of the reconstruction plan.
The school, which will be completed by 2006, will be built on athletic fields next to the old school.
Once the school is built, the old one will be used as a swing school for students from other schools that are being built or remodeled, such as Edgewater Elementary, Mr. Burns said.
“This is really the beginning of the beginning of something great ... for Toledo as a whole,” Mayor Jack Ford told the crowd.