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Save old schools, Findlay board told

FINDLAY - A local preservationist made a passionate plea to city school board members last night when he likened two middle school buildings to the newly renovated Ohio Stadium in Columbus.

Like the college football stadium, John Hutson said Donnell and Glenwood middle schools are worthy of renovation - not demolition.

“They are significant works of architecture, both in style and from a historical standpoint,” said Mr. Hutson, president of the Historic Preservation Guild of Hancock County.

Mr. Hutson made his comments at a special school board meeting held in the cafeteria at Glenwood Middle School. The meeting was held to discuss the district's plans to tear down the two 75-year-old school buildings and replace them if a 3.06-mill, 28-year levy passes in May.

The levy would generate $39 million. About $35 million is needed to build three middle schools. Central Middle School, the third to be replaced, would not be razed, according to the plan.

While speaking to board members, parents, and teachers, Mr. Hutson urged officials to consider his group's proposal - put together by volunteers in the past several months - to consider keeping the structures.

He proposed renovating the buildings and constructing rear additions that would create more classroom and restroom space for students. He added that students could enter the schools away from busy streets, with main entrances being preserved as historical areas.

His presentation was followed by a brief speech by Kevin Kuchenbecker, a former Findlay resident who is executive director of Heritage Ohio in Columbus.

Mr. Kuchenbecker handed board members a folder of materials outlining examples of successful building renovation projects. He said his group recommends restoration when feasible.

“We're pro-education, but we're also pro-preservation,” he said.

Board members didn't ask questions about the presentations but gave tours of the older school building and answered questions and comments from the three dozen people in attendance.

By doing so, they took the opportunity to provide their reasons for the district's construction plans. Officials said the plans were formed after a series of public focus group meetings at which “straw” votes were taken. Most in attendance at those meetings favored new schools, board member Marty Rothey said.

Board President Jeff Shrader said the board and the focus group both began with a goal of keeping all the structures intact.

“We all had hoped for renovation,” Mr. Shrader said.

But after a closer look, he said renovation still didn't meet standards for classroom size and accessibility.

Central Middle School Principal Robert Fox, who chairs the committee that studied the issue, described himself first as a preservationist. But he said he still doubts renovation would fix the problems he sees every day in his building.

“I like these buildings ... But I don't even know with renovation if they'll meet our needs,” he said.

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