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Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Setup of elementary schools to change

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - Grade-level schools will replace the current neighborhood school configuration when the school construction project is complete.
Board members unanimously approved the grade-level concept at Wednesday night's school board meeting whereby East school will house pre-kindergarten through second grade. Grades 3-5 all will locate at West school. (Presently both schools house all classes through sixth grade from those respective neighborhoods.)
Architects from Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina, who are designing the construction and renovations for the district's Ohio School Facilities Commission project requested the grade level/neighborhood issue be determined before designing begins.
Following Wednesday night's meeting, Superintendent Ken Baker said it doesn't make sense to make the shift to grade level now.
"For one thing, we have nowhere to put the sixth grade if we pull them out before the end of the facilities project," he said.
The grade level configuration could realize a cost savings, although the exact amount is not known at this time. That potential savings correlates directly with enrollment numbers, which cannot be known three years down the road.
"(Grade level schools) will allow us to combine classes, consolidating our services in art, music, and so forth ... Combining classes will save money in the long run as we reduce staff through attrition," Baker commented, adding the district and community members completed a study in 2005 regarding the grade level/neighborhood school pros and cons.
No timeline has been finalized with architects, OSFC and the construction group, although Baker said the community was told completion of the project will come by 2011.
The 73-acre land tract purchase from Paul Fortman for $1 million has yet to be finalized, although phase one of the Ohio EPA study has been completed. The land is where the new junior high/high school will be built.
The EPA study found an underground storage tank, which now requires soil borings to make sure the soil around the tank is not contaminated. Also discovered is a junk pile in the woods containing old tires, metal and other debris, which will require removal.
"All the attorneys are talking to resolve these matters. OSFC won't approve the project until this is cleared up," Baker said. "Our big concern now is the weather - with soft ground and trying to get back there to clear the site."
All parties are hopeful that the land option can be exercised in March.
In his report to the board, Business Manager Kurt Kuffner said traffic study proposals are being solicited to determine whether ODOT will allow a traffic light to be installed at the intersection of state Route 66 and Shipman Road (near the Fortman land). This process could take as long as a year.
In what many in the audience later called "quite a surprise," Ralph Wiley and Eric Langsdon were elected board president and vice president, respectively. Also nominated were Rees McKee and Craig Gottschalk, who have served in those positions for the past three years. The tie-breaker vote in both instances was that of board member Lisa Tobin.
"This was obviously a situation where two people were interested in a board office. I don't believe it's indicative of anything more than that," Baker said following the meeting.
All issues coming before the board were approved unanimously with no dissents.
Additional online story on this date
A restaurant/bar owner along Grand Lake is pleading with the local health department to beef up enforcement of the smoking ban law to create an even playing field for all businesses and private clubs. [More]
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