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Published: Saturday, 4/17/2004

Petition seeks more athletic facilities

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Calling for improved recreational sites at some of the Toledo Public Schools' planned new and renovated middle and high schools, 222 people have signed a petition urging the school board to add more sports facilities as part of the construction project.

Ben Williams, a former Scott High School basketball coach who now operates an organization called Youth Services, Inc., collected the signatures and forwarded them to the district and community leaders this month in an effort to improve the availability of recreational facilities for city youths.

He called for tennis courts, tracks, fields for baseball, softball, football, and soccer, and outdoor volleyball courts at Scott, Libbey, Waite, and Woodward high schools and for the middle schools that feed them. He has focused, however, on addressing issues at Scott, citing the high school's high percentage of African-American and special needs students.

"At Scott, for years we have suffered," he said. "We're talking about what we can get to make up for all the years of neglect, especially at Scott."

Mr. Williams released to The Blade a letter dated April 19 stating that TPS and the Greater Toledo YMCA, who have partnered on athletic facilities at Start High School, "haven't given any indication that they intend to adhere to our request" for similar plans at Scott High.

The letter, addressed to WilliAnn Moore, president of the Toledo NAACP branch, asks for legal action against the district and the YMCA for alleged racial, geographic, and socio-economic status discrimination. Ms. Moore was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment, but it is not clear based on the date of the letter whether she had even received it.

TPS officials said they are already providing as many facilities as they can afford with taxpayer money as part of its $821 million rebuilding program with the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

"We don't have the student population that once participated in sports," said board vice president Larry Sykes. "Our main point with this project is to better educate children."

Still, each high school will have $714,000 to use toward new athletic facilities, said Gary Sautter, assistant business manager.

"We're going to have to put that money where it's most important, and they'll make that decision at each school," he said.

Under the reconstruction program, 75 percent of which is funded by the facilities commission, all of the district's schools will be rebuilt or renovated during the next decade. But participating in the state program meant that the district must meet some project requirements and mandates from Columbus.

"Our mandate from the legislature, in state law, talks about classroom facilities, and we have always looked at this as a mandate to provide for the classroom facilities and for the corollary areas that would be needed to provide the educational support," said Rick Savors, spokesman for the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

The state allows districts to use commission funds to build up to 16,000-square-foot gymnasiums at high schools with locker rooms and offices, as well as an outdoor multi-purpose field and a softball diamond, Mr. Savors said. But any athletic facilities beyond that must be paid for by the district.

Dan Burns, the district's chief business manager, said all new and renovated schools will have gymnasiums, and the high schools will also have outdoor multipurpose fields and softball diamonds - as much as the state money will provide.

Mr. Burns said the district is attempting to negotiate more partnerships, such as the one it plans with the city of Toledo and the YMCA of Greater Toledo that calls for a new aquatics center and Bowman Park at a new Start High School complex.

Mr. Williams points to the plans at Start High as an example of what should be done at more Toledo schools.

But Robert Alexander, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toledo, said the Start project is possible because it was economically feasible for both his organization and the district, and because there was land available to build the facilities.

"Mr. Williams' petition is well-intentioned, but it doesn't deal with the realities," Mr. Alexander said. "The monies that they're rebuilding the schools with are very much restricted to certain educational purposes and not recreational purposes. I know that from working with them."

Mr. Williams said the district and the YMCA have obligations to the communities that extend beyond their budget projections.

"They're not supposed to be in business to make money. They're also supposed to serve areas that are low-income as well," he said.

Contact Sandra Svoboda at:

svoboda@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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