BOWLING GREEN - Not all of the pictures are hung or the boxes unpacked, but the staff at the Wood County Educational Service Center hasn't taken too long to settle into their new office building in the research park just off I-75 at Dunbridge Road.
The $2.2 million, single-story complex has nearly twice the square footage the agency had at its former home.
"The whole place was designed around our people," said Superintendent Douglas Garman. "There's just a nice flow to it."
The service center is holding a dedication ceremony and open house for the public beginning at 3:30 p.m. today.
After entering the glass-fronted lobby, visitors will see a conference area that can accommodate up to 300 people or be divided into three rooms. There is ample office space, a curriculum library that features the latest in textbooks and educational materials, as well as a naturally lit, play-based room where preschoolers are observed and evaluated for possible developmental delays.
Plans for the 21,000-square-foot office building came about after the Wood County commissioners decided in 2002 to begin charging the agency rent for the 12,500 square feet it occupied inside a former insurance building the county owns on Dunbridge Road.
Prior to 2002, counties were required to provide and equip office space for the agencies formerly known as county school boards. When that law changed, the county announced plans to begin phasing in rent charges that would ultimately cost the service center about $150,000 a year.
Mr. Garman said that despite the acrimony that ensued, the educational service center wound up with a new home that meets its needs, allows room for future growth, and is already funded.
"We opted to pay for it so there would be no additional charge to the local school districts we serve," he said.
Penny Getz, president of the service center board, said she the new facility will allow the service center to host events like its annual banquet for Wood County valedictorians and salutatorians rather than going to an area restaurant.
She said the board was able to pay off the building upfront through frugality.
"Just because you've got money in a fund doesn't mean you spend it and we've known for a long time that the county was going to quit providing us a place at no cost,'' she said. "We've planned for that.''
The agency, which has a $14-million-a-year budget, receives its main source of funding from state and federal grants. It also earns income from contracts for services with local school districts and receives $37 for each of the more than 8,400 students in the six Wood County districts it serves.
To pay for the building, Mr. Garman said the agency has been investing the portion of its grant money allowed for administrative expenses and has been charging school districts for services it once provided at no cost.
The service center received some help with the project. Bowling Green contributed $52,000 toward the cost of the 3-acre site through its Community Development Foundation.
Mayor John Quinn said at the time that the city wanted to keep the service center in town. It employs about 370 people, 80 of whom work full-time at the service center while the rest work in school districts throughout the region.
The center provides a number of specialized services local school districts cannot afford to provide on their own and acts as an employment agency of sorts - contracting with school districts to provide everything from psychologists and speech therapists to teacher's aides and bus mechanics.
Mr. Garman said he sees the agency continuing to grow, and he would like to see it become a regional educational service center as the state moves toward consolidation of some education and technology-related agencies.
The new building has enough space to accommodate regional programs such as training seminars; is centrally located in northwest Ohio; and has easy access and parking just off I-75, he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan