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Published: Wednesday, 9/5/2012

Safety concerns push back 1st day of class at 2 charter schools

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Students of Horizon Science Academy attend orientation under two tents in the parking lot of DeVeaux Village on Tuesday. The City of Toledo denied an occupancy permit to the building last week. Students of Horizon Science Academy attend orientation under two tents in the parking lot of DeVeaux Village on Tuesday. The City of Toledo denied an occupancy permit to the building last week.
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Two Toledo charter schools run by the same company were forced to delay the first day of classes Tuesday after city inspectors found inoperative fire alarm systems and unlicensed contractors in their buildings.

Horizon Science Academy, which for years has operated sites in downtown Toledo at 425 Jefferson Ave. and at 630 S. Reynolds Rd., planned to open a new kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for 550 students inside a former grocery store in DeVeaux Village on Sylvania Avenue near Douglas Road.

The Sylvania Avenue site was denied an occupancy permit by the city last week while the Reynolds Road site remains closed because renovations were not completed on time.

"They had illegal contractors doing the work, but the bottom line was the life-safety systems were not in there for the kids," Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said.

The management of the three schools overlaps, but officials say they are all independent.

Murat Oguz, director of the West Toledo branch on Sylvania Avenue, said the downtown location formerly housed two schools -- which he called a "downtown branch" and a "Toledo branch." It was the Toledo branch that moved to the west side, he said.

The downtown school remains open with 316 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, he said.

"We had to delay opening until Monday," Mr. Oguz said. "So far, parents seem to be understanding. Actually, we made an auto-dial and we still have an orientation going on [in] the parking lot, but they seem to be understanding and they realize that it is not our fault. We are ready to start the year, but the building did not allow us. They are minor issues."

Domonique Glover, an algebra teacher for Horizon Science Academy, gives sophomore Lia Bias a uniform shirt during orientation in the parklng lot of DeVeaux Village. Domonique Glover, an algebra teacher for Horizon Science Academy, gives sophomore Lia Bias a uniform shirt during orientation in the parklng lot of DeVeaux Village.
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A company associated with Concept Schools, which manages the academies, bought the former Seaway Food Town store in DeVeaux Village. Company officials said in November the school eventually would have 30 classrooms, a gymnasium, a football field, a career center, cafeteria, and laboratories, and would be retrofitted for 630 high-school students. Documents presented to the Toledo City Plan Commission last year described the school as including kindergarten through eighth grade.

Mr. Herwat said the school paid for city inspectors on overtime Monday during Labor Day.

"It did not pass because the alarm system is not in," he said. "We will not allow children to be in a charter school or public school that does not have a functioning alarm."

Charter schools are often run by private, for-profit management firms that receive taxpayer money.

"We have been working with these schools the past couple of weeks trying to get them open for the first day of class," Mr. Herwat said. "What they wanted us to do was put a fire inspector in under a fire watch, but we can't put a person in the building in place of an alarm."

Chris Zervos, director of the city's inspection department, said the company did not request an occupancy permit for the Reynolds Road building. "The one on Reynolds is simply not ready," Mr. Zervos said. "The one on Sylvania has called for final inspection this Friday so they can get the certificate of occupancy by Monday."

That site is for 470 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Mr. Oguz said.



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