A grass-roots effort to save Libbey High School or parts of its 44-acre campus began taking shape Monday night under a daunting deadline to present a plan to the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education before it signs contracts for demolition.
The school board has voted to level the structure and several other former schools and must have signed contracts with demolition firms before Dec. 31, 2011, to have the state pay for three-quarters of the cost.
The district voted to close Libbey because of declining enrollment and the need to clear a $39 million budget deficit this school year.
The nearly 40 people who met at the South Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library Monday night to consider ways to obtain a moratorium on the demolition were hit with the reality that they must have a plan within 30 to 45 days.
Lisa Sobecki, a TPS board member, outlined the deadline facing the board and urged the group to begin forming committees and assigning tasks before meeting with the board.
Her warning was echoed by Councilman Mike Craig, who represents Council District 3, which includes Libbey.
Meeting organizer Sue Terrill sounded out ideas that Libbey supporters would like to see for the building. Among them were using a business incubator, charter school, community center, or a site for after-school programs or GED preparation.
What no one expressed was a desire for demolition of Libbey, a five-story structure off Western Avenue near the Anthony Wayne Trail, with its high ceilings and carved and polished stone, built in 1923.
Tashawn Johnson, a volunteer with Canaan Outreach Center, across the street from Libbey, said the loss of Libbey as a community anchor would be detrimental to his organization's work with neighborhood youth and low-income residents.
Ms. Sobecki, who learned of the meeting shortly before it convened, said she decided to show up to provide the deadlines the school board must meet to obtain the demolition funds. If the deadline is missed, she said, the district would be stuck with the entire cost of demolition, estimated at $2 million to $4 million. Otherwise, the state would pay 77 percent of that under the Ohio School Facilities Commission program.
In 2006, Libbey was left off a long-range plan to rebuild and renovate Toledo schools using state funds and local bond money. Those projects, including building a new Start High, received 77 percent state matching money.
Ms. Sobecki said school officials kept Libbey off the master plan because enrollment was down across the district and they predicted accurately that it would keep falling.
Councilman Craig said organizers must consider other factors in their attempt to preserve the school, factors the school district weighed in determining it should be torn down.
Among them are the condition of the buildings and the cost of heating, which Mr. Craig estimated could run $500,000 a year.
Willie Braggs, a 1970 graduate of Libbey who retired after 32 years as a TPS teacher, said that because young people would not have a neighborhood school, crime would surge if the school were torn down. Others in the library meeting room expressed the same fear.
"If it is torn down, it sends a message to young people" that they don't matter to the community.
"I believe you can use it for something else," he added.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6050
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