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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Van Wert short $7M for school construction

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

VAN WERT, Ohio - The Van Wert school board is expected next week to discuss ways to make up a shortfall of more than $7 million for construction of a new high school-middle school and performing arts center.

The district passed a $25 million bond issue in 2001, and a local group has raised $9 million in private funds for the project, but the total cost has risen past $41 million because of construction delays and design changes.

Board President Ken Markward said options include borrowing from a statewide educational program and repaying the loan with funds from an existing permanent improvement levy.

He said he expects both facilities, which are being built on a former farm site on State Rt. 118, to be completed on schedule later this year.

"We're scheduling the students to move in over Thanksgiving break this fall," he said.

When voters approved the 28-year bond issue in November, 2001, the district projected the $25 million in proceeds would fund construction of the school, which will replace classroom buildings that are more than 90 years old.

Donations were expected to pay for the adjoining performing arts center, estimated at $6 million.

The district planned to seek construction bids in the fall of 2003, but that process was pushed back a year because of design changes to the arts center, which is to have a 1,200-seat auditorium and a 180-seat lecture hall, Mr. Markward said. Construction began late in 2004.

District officials knew in 2004 the total project cost would be at least $40 million, Mr. Markward said. The Legacy Committee, formed in 2004 at the board's request, went to work raising private funds for the arts center.

The group has raised $9.3 million for the project, with $7.7 million available for construction, said Charles Koch, a Van Wert lawyer and a co-chairman of the Legacy Committee. Donors have included the Van Wert Community Foundation, which pledged $2 million, and Scott Niswonger, a 1965 Van Wert High School graduate who gave $3 million.

"It's not like they are somehow at fault," Mr. Markward said. "It's just that, I guess I'll have to say I thought there was going to be more than $9 million. ... But the Legacy Committee doesn't owe us a cent. They've raised $9 million. We're very grateful."

Mr. Koch said the committee is still seeking donations. "It's our expectation that we will be able to raise the necessary funds to pay for the construction of the performing arts center," he said.

However, district officials and the committee differ on how much the arts center will cost, partly because of a debate over whether four music rooms are part of the school or part of the center. Mr. Koch said the fund-raising group expects construction to cost $9 million.

But Mr. Markward cited figures from the project's architect, the Buehrer Group of Maumee, showing the school's cost at $29.6 million, the performing arts center at just under $10 million, and the music classrooms at $1.6 million. Including the music rooms in the center's cost - which he said was part of the original plans - pushes the construction cost to $11.6 million.

Mr. Koch said his group disputes that position. "It's part of their school building," he said.

He said he expects the district to find funding to complete both parts of the project "with no impact on the taxpayers of this community."

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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