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PEMBERVILLE, Ohio — Eastwood Local Schools Superintendent Brent Welker and his staff find themselves working out of a mobile command center more appropriate to disaster coordinators than education officials, but the situation won’t last much longer.
Plans are being made to move the district’s administrative offices to the Dowling Building, a former school on the corner of Dowling and Carter roads in Wood County’s Middleton Township. The move is necessitated by the Jan. 25 fire that destroyed the school system’s bus building and adjoining administrative offices. The blaze started in the west end of the structure, where buses were parked, and was fanned by 30 mph winds. The alarm was called in at 7:25 a.m.
Nobody was injured, and the cause has not been determined. The official damage figure is not yet in, but Mr. Welker estimates it will be in the $700,000 to $800,000 range, not including the contents of the building. He estimates another $250,000 in technology, including servers, was destroyed.
Seven buses in the building were moved from harm by fast-acting staffers and a Wood County sheriff’s deputy responding to the alarm. The district’s records, however, were destroyed, a significant loss.
“All of our personnel files, our special ed files — they were paper files, and they’re gone,” the superintendent said. The Eastwood schools have an enrollment of about 1,600.
The school district’s insurance carrier had the command center — a large tractor trailer rig — delivered on Jan. 26, the day after the fire, after the school board decided to go with it during a special meeting in Mr. Welker’s Luckey home. The snowy weather that followed in a matter of hours actually helped. School was closed for three days — the following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday — allowing staff to focus on getting the command center up and running.
Mr. Welker works upstairs in the “penthouse” of the split-level command center, which houses eight administrative staffers. The bathroom doesn’t work, so they use the high school’s facilities.
“I’m very eager to get out [into other offices]. Those guys,” he said, indicating the staffers downstairs, “are struggling.”
One way or another, by Feb. 20, “we need a permanent or semipermanent solution,” he explained, because the company owning the command center needs it for another job.
The Dowling Building has not been used for five years and needs painting, plumbing, and heating plant repairs. After it was decommissioned as an elementary school, the building was used as the Northwest Ohio Special Educational Resource Center. Before the fire, the district planned to sell it in March.
Mr. Welker said the board is studying the possibility of a long-term solution that would involve construction of a new elementary or middle school with administrative offices attached.
Such a plan would require voters to approve a construction levy.