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Thursday, June 14th, 2007

School facilities may get changes

Board accepts state funds; will ask voters for more

By Timothy Cox
ST. MARYS - School district officials voted unanimously to accept about $28 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), which means voters eventually will face a levy to fund the local share of the project.
The vote come with no fanfare in front of fewer than two dozen spectators at Wednesday's regular monthly meeting. No one from the public addressed the board or talked about the proposed building project.
School board members earlier this month had adopted a facilities committee's recommended basic master plan, which carries a total cost of $45.94 million with the state funding $28.02 million of it. The community portion of $17.91 million does not include locally funded initiatives (LFI).
LFIs are items such as athletic fields and facilities that OSFC money cannot be used to help build. Committee members have recommended several LFIs, including the land to build new facilities on, terrazzo flooring, fixed seat auditorium, expanding the size of the high school gymnasium to a competition-sized gym and remodeling and reusing Cook Gym. If any of these are added to the plan, the costs to taxpayers will increase.
According to OSFC rules, St. Marys now has one year and up to three ballot attempts to pass a local levy. If school officials want an issue on the Nov. 6 ballot, the project details and levy ballot language would have to be finalized by mid-August.
District Superintendent Ken Baker said district officials have more decisions to make soon if they want to place the issue on the November ballot. First and foremost, board members must come up with a suitable site for new facilities before going to voters, Baker said.
Board members had the option to accept, reject or defer for one year the OSFC assistance. Deferring could have given the community more time to rally support for its plan but the idea was never publicly discussed by board members.
Board President Rees McKee made the motion to accept the money now, and the other four board members unanimously backed the decision.
A.G. Edwards was hired as the bond underwriter for the project, and Bricker & Eckler as bond and construction legal counsel. School officials said they have a level of familiarity with both firms.
Of the two people from A.G. Edwards who will be working on the school's project, one is a former district official and the other is the former head of the state superintendents association. The district already deals with Bricker & Eckler on a near daily basis, Baker said.
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