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Published: Tuesday, 6/8/2010

Lake Local likely to seek state's help

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - With Lake High School in ruins, state and school officials have initially turned their eyes to the Ohio School Facilities Commission for possible help in rebuilding.

The commission has spent has some $8.5 billion since 1997 to help half of the districts in the state replace or renovate schools, but it's unclear how much help it would be in this case.

Commission spokesman Rick Savors said Lake Local School District has not undertaken a major project with commission help in the past.

"One program that we have is the Emergency Assistance Program, which we call the Acts of God program," he said. "It's supposed to help districts cover costs not covered by insurance or federal or state grants. It's designed to make the district whole."

The program has been used just once before, after damage to Findlay schools in a 2007 flood.

Commission programs generally provide a greater share of its aid to poorer districts, and in Lake's case, that would amount to about one quarter of the total cost of a building project. Of 613 school districts in the state, Lake ranks 456th in aid ratio. The higher the number, the lower the state's share toward a project.

But it was unclear yesterday whether the poverty formula would also apply to the Emergency Assistance Program.

"It shouldn't [apply], and maybe it won't in this case," said Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green). He and Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) were in touch with the commission yesterday.

"It is very rare to have this kind of total loss," Mr. Gardner said.

"What's likely to happen is the vast majority would be covered by insurance, and this fund would cover what isn't covered for some reason."

Although the nearby middle school and elementary school both sustained some damage, Mr. Gardner said he believes the high school is a "total 100 percent loss."

Lake Schools Superintendent Jim Witt said the building was insured, but he could not immediately say what type of coverage the district has or the name of the insurer.

"We were insured, but that's an ongoing process," he said yesterday. "To say anything more at this point would be very premature. We just met with them today, and they are assessing the damage still."

Mr. Wagoner's mother-in-law and father-in-law were graduates of Lake High. His mother-in-law is a former homecoming queen.

"Lake is a wonderful community," he said. "Folks like to take care of themselves. They're independent, the backbone of Ohio. They haven't typically looked to the state for solutions, but these are extraordinary circumstances. I have never heard of a high school being completely wiped out by weather."

The school facilities commission's programs have been primarily funded through bonds secured by the state's settlement with tobacco companies, capital budget borrowing, and interest earnings.

Gov. Ted Strickland plans to return to Wood County today and then visit Ottawa County for the first time since Sunday's storms. He had reportedly hoped to include a meeting with Lake school officials, but given the high school's postponed graduation commencement tonight at Owens Community College, such a meeting will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gardner and Mr. Wagoner said other schools have offered to help with everything from classroom space to access to buses to replace those destroyed by the tornado.

Staff Writer JC Reindl contributed to this report.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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