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Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Public votes on school designs

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - It's down to the wire, and the community is playing a big part in narrowing the choices where new school facilities are concerned.
The school district is preparing for the possibility of state funding this year through the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) for new or renovated facilities.
Superintendent Ken Baker has urged the board to decide on a master plan design by the May 9 board meeting so that information can be forwarded as requested by OSFC budgeting office. Thus two more community meetings were set to solicit public input.
Electronic voting at the two meetings this week shows the 80-plus attendees agreed with the facilities committee's preferred plan. The total cost of that basic project is $45.94 million with the state picking up 61 percent, leaving a local share of $17.91 million.
The current master plan is:
• Abandon McBroom Junior High School and Memorial High School.
• Renovate East school for grades prekindergarten through 5.
• Renovate and add onto West school for grades 1 through 5.
• Renovate the Dennings building.
• Build a new 186,396-square-foot middle/high school for grades 6 through 12.
But there also are questions circulating around town, voiced at the Tuesday morning meeting by Peggy Sheaks, a former teacher and St. Marys resident.
"I think everyone is concerned with cost. I know I can't afford another $400 a year," Sheaks said after tax information had been presented showing approximate homeowner cost to be between $150 and $196 per year for a $90,000 market value home.
The state allows one year to get the necessary local funding in place. Although the board has not yet addressed what fund raising means would be selected, it appears some sort of ballot issue will be necessary.
"There are rumors all over town that you (the district) have signed an agreement with Liettes (owners of a large property site west of town) to buy land," Sheaks said to the panel of two board members, two facility committee members, Steve Wilczynski with Fanning/Howey Associates and Baker.
Board President Rees McKee responded, "Absolutely not. Not a dime has been spent to hold property."
Board Member Craig Gottschalk said there has been "no discussion by the board, no discussion between the board and the district administration and no round-robin conversations regarding site location."
(Round robin is a term used in the Open Meetings Act, aka Sunshine Law, that prohibits members of public boards/councils, etc. from scheduling individual back-to-back discussions in person or telephone of public business when a majority of members are involved.)
Bill Kellermeyer, facilities committee member, pointed out "location of any new facilities was never our charge."
Additionally the panel reiterated that any land parcels purchased during the 2003 facilities plan under former Superintendent Paul Blaine have long been sold and the board currently holds no options on land. "All options held on any land were allowed to expire in 2004," Baker said following the meeting.
Sheaks also voiced concern about interior design and the possibility for wasted space citing the "giant teepee in Wapak's high school foyer."
The panel promised there will be "no teepees" should the district press forward to build or renovate district buildings, which is an all or nothing proposition.
Kellermeyer explained that OSFC guidelines require that all buildings must be improved; there is no picking and choosing.
The state money does not cover items the state calls Locally Funded Initiatives (LFIs), which would be an auditorium, road improvements and athletic fields.
"You know any of these things will have to come from the people of this small district. There are lots of tax abatements given out by the city so that businesses aren't paying taxes. Plus we don't have the Dickes here in St. Marys, " Sheaks said.
Baker commented the district will be "assertive in asking for local partnerships."
As always, the panel emphasized the community's opinion and input will determine if the district proceeds with any new construction or renovation.
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