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Published: Friday, 9/17/2010

Lake gets approval to build new school

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lake Superintendent Jim Witt says that demolition of the damaged structure of the district's high school is scheduled to begin sometime next week. Lake Superintendent Jim Witt says that demolition of the damaged structure of the district's high school is scheduled to begin sometime next week.
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Lake High School students are on track to get an entirely new school, thanks to an agreement reached Thursday with the district's insurance company.

Negotiators for Lake Local Schools met Thursday morning with representatives from Travelers insurance carrier. The agency agreed it will pay $19.1 million toward rebuilding the tornado-ravaged high school, the maximum sum available for reconstruction under the district's insurance policy.

Together with a commitment of $4.8 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the district will have enough to rebuild the school from the ground up, administrators said.

Thursday's agreement marks an end to weeks of haggling over how much of the high school should be rebuilt from scratch. Lake officials wanted the full structure torn down, but the insurance company insisted 53 percent of the school could be saved.

Jim Witt surveys a hallway in the school that was ripped apart by the June tornado. He said he often felt disbelief that the insurance company said the building was salvageable. Jim Witt surveys a hallway in the school that was ripped apart by the June tornado. He said he often felt disbelief that the insurance company said the building was salvageable.
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That portion of the building has remained standing as officials waited to resolve the insurance claim.

"With this settlement today, it allows us to move forward," school board President Tim Krugh said, as he stood outside what remains of the high school near Millbury.

"We're thrilled about the result. That's the best outcome we could probably have under these circumstances," he said.

Demolition of the structure is expected to begin next week, Lake Superintendent Jim Witt said. The district hopes to complete construction of the school building by August or September, 2012.

Lake Local Schools board member Margene Akenberger, left, and Joe Vancena of Rudolph/Libbe slosh down a hall at the damaged school. As they toured the building, they dodged puddles, heaps of debris, soggy insulation, and broken wires and pipes.  The sky is visible through the library door ahead of them. Lake Local Schools board member Margene Akenberger, left, and Joe Vancena of Rudolph/Libbe slosh down a hall at the damaged school. As they toured the building, they dodged puddles, heaps of debris, soggy insulation, and broken wires and pipes. The sky is visible through the library door ahead of them.
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Tornadoes whipped through portions of Wood, Ottawa, and Fulton counties on the night of June 5-6, killing six people, including the father of the class valedictorian, the day before the high school's planned graduation ceremony. As well as destroying the high school, tornado ripped apart dozens of homes and the Lake Township administration building.

As Mr. Witt led reporters Thursday through the hallways of the destroyed school, stepping across piles of debris, puddles of water, and soggy insulation, he said he often felt disbelief during negotiations with the insurance company. Most of the more than 30 classrooms and hallways that still are standing have large holes in the ceiling, broken wires, and pipes. A door into the school's former library looks out onto the sky.

Mr. Krugh said, "We felt from our first assessment that the entire high school building was a complete loss. It's a mess. I don't think anybody would want to have their children in here."

High School Principal Lee Herman said he was delighted with Thursday's agreement. The high school has been holding classes temporarily at Owens Community College. Mr. Herman said students have adjusted quickly to the new environment, but would be happy to learn about the progress made toward building their new school.

"I think they're going to be excited. I think they're ready to come back and they deserve a nice new building to come back to," Mr. Herman said.

School officials are still negotiating over coverage for the building's contents lost in the storm. Altogether, Lake administrators said they expect the entire insurance claim to reach around $30 million.

Meanwhile, a state legislative panel on Monday approved the release of up to $2.5 million in emergency funds to help Lake schools recover from the financial loss caused by the tornadoes.

The emergency funds are separate from the recent up-front commitment of $4.8 million made by the Ohio School Facilities Commission directly toward actual construction.

That money comes from the state's School District Solvency Assistance Fund. Although the program traditionally is used for schools in fiscal crisis, the state has pointed to a rarely used provision of the law allowing the fund to be used for a district that "suffers an unforeseen catastrophic event that severely depletes the district's financial resources."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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