BOWLING GREEN - When school lets out this spring, South Main Elementary in Bowling Green will close for good. But under a proposal made to the school board this week, the building could have students and teachers in it again by summer.
Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said he believes South Main would be an ideal location for a community arts center similar to the two Common Space locations that operate in former elementary schools in Toledo.
The Arts Council Lake Erie West oversees the centers, which offer dance classes, run summer camps, rent studio space to local artists, and host other arts-related activities.
"It just seems like a natural use for the building and, in this community, it's a great fit,'' Mr. Caumartin said. "This is an organization that has an established track record, proven performance - not something you have to worry about getting involved with.''
The first Common Space opened in 1983 in the former Glann Elementary on North Reynolds Road, and the second opened in 1992 at the old Martin Elementary on Hill Avenue.
Founder Martin Nagy, executive director of the arts council, said he did his homework on Bowling Green - talking with those involved in the arts, the university, and the community - and feels the concept would work here.
If the school board and Common Space can negotiate a lease agreement, Mr. Nagy said he would like to begin offering arts camps at South Main this summer. From there, the possibilities are endless.
"We might have after-school programs for at-risk students, or kids looking for enrichment and more arts programming. We would offer adult continuing education classes in various art forms and different types of educational areas,'' he said. "Here [in Toledo], we offer French and sometimes Spanish. We have senior citizen programs.''
He said adults who are uncomfortable taking a class at Bowling Green State University may be more inclined to sign up for one at South Main, even if it's a course offered by BGSU. The Black Swamp Arts Festival and other arts organizations could have offices in the building.
"I envision us bringing in maybe a branch of one of the local coffee shops in there, maybe a children's bookstore, definitely an art gallery,'' said Mr. Nagy, a BGSU graduate. "Local artists could rent studio space so it's not in their home or garage or basement.''
Elaine Skoog, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, said she's sold on the idea because it would keep South Main as a viable near-downtown building and offer another way for the community to meet the needs of its young people, especially those who aren't involved in sports.
"I believe from my experiences that we as a society underplay what the arts can do for our kids,'' she said. "I think it would be a fabulous use for that space, and it is well-located."
While the details have not been worked out, Mr. Caumartin said the board likely would negotiate an agreement similar to what Toledo Public Schools has with Common Space - a $1-a-year lease that makes Common Space responsible for utilities, insurance, and maintenance on the building.
Mr. Caumartin, who worked for Toledo Public Schools when the first Common Space was developed, said he contacted Mr. Nagy shortly after the board voted in January to close South Main at the end of the school year. "I had kind of lost touch with them, and I was impressed with how much they've grown and the experience and track record they've established,'' he said. "It's certainly not a fly-by-night operation by any stretch of the imagination.''
Mr. Caumartin said the option is preferable to demolishing South Main or selling it at public auction and having no control over what becomes of the property.
Built in 1890, the building's plumbing and electrical systems are strained, and it lacks adequate storage, parking, playground space, and room for buses to drop off kids. Its enrollment dropped to just 130 children in kindergarten through sixth grade this year, sealing the board's decision to close it permanently.