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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Otsego plans 4th try at school bond request

The current Otsego High School would have been modified to house elementary pupils under the bond issue proposal that district voters turned down in August. The current Otsego High School would have been modified to house elementary pupils under the bond issue proposal that district voters turned down in August.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

TONTOGANY, Ohio - Three times, officials of the Otsego Local School District have asked voters to approve money requests for projects to help update the district s aging schools.

And in three consecutive tries, electors said no.

On March 2, Otsego voters will go to the polls again. This time district officials hope they will change their minds and vote for a much different - and less expensive - proposal.

Voters of the district, which extends across northern Wood County, southern Lucas County, and juts into eastern Henry County, will be asked to approve a 6.2-mill bond issue for 28 years.

If the issue is approved, the district would receive millions from the state to help build a high school and make improvements to the district s three elementary schools.

“What s different this time, and it s a significant difference, is that ... Haskins, Weston, and Grand Rapids would continue to have elementaries in their villages,” Superintendent Joe Long said.

The last two attempts to pass the bond issue failed because of opposition to plans to close the district s three elementary schools and build one large elementary in Tontogany next to a new high school and middle school complex.

Residents feared losing their community schools, Mr. Long said. “I think the first encouraging note was that the facilities committee was able to come up with a compromise plan,” he said. “Now that the plan includes those elementaries, we certainly are more hopeful.”

In August, voters turned down a bond issue of 8.9 mills that would have generated $25.5 million to pay for construction of a middle school-high school building on the Tontogany campus. The project would have modified the current high school to house elementary pupils.

Residents rejected the issue by about 300 votes, though approval would have put the district in line to receive $22.3 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

The district s building plan has been attacked for consolidating elementary pupils into fewer buildings. Opponents wanted to keep the four community schools, board President James Harter said after the last defeat.

Opponents in Grand Rapids said consolidating pupils in buildings outside the village would mean a loss of income tax revenue the village collects from school employees.

Other opponents favored remodeling buildings rather than the district s proposal for new construction.

The March bond issue would generate $18.4 million to build a high school with an auditorium. The new high school would be attached to the existing 1963 high school building, which then would be converted to a middle school.

Mr. Long said the district has recognized for some time that its buildings are crowded and outdated. The middle school science lab, for example, has only one portable sink and some students are meeting on occasions in the hallways.

But officials hope for more than just a new high school. Of the total bond, about $1.5 million would be dedicated in improvements to the elementary buildings, including doors and window upgrades and perhaps furnaces, Mr. Long said. The enhancements would prolong the lives of the elementary schools until they could be remodeled or replaced, he added.

The 1,750-student district has secured a financial commitment from the state that would eventually be used to build new elementary buildings in Haskins and Weston. School officials said Grand Rapids elementary would likely be remodeled.

An overall price tag has not been determined. If approved, the $18.4 million bond issue would fund the high school or 45 percent of the total project.

Also included in the bond issue request is the demolition of the middle school, which was built in 1916 in Grand Rapids.

If the issue is approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $190 a year in new taxes.

- ERICA BLAKE



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