COLUMBUS — As its students prepare to return to class Thursday in temporary space at Owens Community College, the Lake Local School District received a commitment Wednesday from the state for up to $7.3 million to help its tornado-destroyed high school rise again.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission on Thursday is expected to approve $4.8 million from its emergency assistance program to get preliminary work on a new high school under way while Lake continues to work with its insurance company.
"We are saying that you will have this $4.8 million available to you during the design and construction phases of the high school," said Rick Savors, school facilities spokesman. "They are working with their insurance carrier to reach a settlement, but they need to start moving on the design phase and they need to do it now."
The dollar figure, which could change as work progresses, assumes student enrollment of 465 students at the 9-12 school. Mr. Savors said the tentative estimate for reconstruction is $18.8 million and that the $4.8 million in Emergency Assistance Program funds is roughly what the school would have qualified for if it had gone through routine channels for a new construction/renovation project.
"This is the type of act of God the program is designed for," Mr. Savors said.
The Ohio Department of Education plans to ask the Ohio Controlling Board to release $2.5 million in emergency assistance. That money is expected to be spent on materials other than actual construction.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Lake Superintendent Jim Witt said leaders were delighted with news of the state aid.
He said they are still in discussions with Lake's insurance carrier about plans for the future — either reusing what remains or tearing it down.
But Mr. Witt said the parties are closer to reaching a resolution on the issue.
The school was destroyed by a swath of tornadoes that swept through northwest Ohio in the night of June 5 to 6. The school was forced to move its high school graduation ceremony and returning students are heading for the community college instead of their old home.
The state's requests for a federal emergency declaration and assistance were rejected because the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that the damage was not beyond the ability of local and state governments and volunteer agencies to respond.
"I've seen firsthand the courage of our young people in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and as Lake Local students are going back to school, we want them to know that we will support them in every way we can," Gov. Ted Strickland said. "We are committed to providing the best possible facilities for our students because we know that the quality of our classrooms will help determine the quality of their educational experience."