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Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Board OKs Memorial High School demolition

St. Marys

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - The question of demolishing the 1923 high school building was resolved when the school board gave the go ahead at a special work session this week.
Discussion continues on other issues including stadium location and whether to build a field house, among others.
Several avenues have been explored to put the Memorial High School/McBroom buildings to use by the district, the city or another entity. But, across the board, the renovations would be too costly. Plus the annual maintenance and utilities is more than $138,000. For a time, it appeared the Ohio National Guard was interested in the building, but renovations were prohibitive.
"We tried to give it to the city, but they didn't even want the bare ground," school board member Rees McKee quipped.
Demolition of the buildings is part of the Ohio School Facilities Commission master plan, which the board adopted more than a year ago. That plan has the state paying for 61 percent of the demolition cost.
The proposal is to demolish the complex up to the Cook gymnasium, which will be buttoned up for continued use by the district. The plan calls for demolition by November 2010.
The issue of a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 33. seems to be sliding into obscurity, due literally to lack of interest.
Several school board members said at the recent work session they have been approached by the community with both praise and objections concerning the proposed pedestrian bridge that would solve the problem of students walking on the state Route 66 overpass to the new 6-12 school building. The ball park estimate is between $1.4 and $1.7 million.
"We (the school) cannot apply for funding. The city would have to be the grantee and they are not interested," district Business Manager Kurt Kuffner said.
This week's session was lengthy and lively as board members, academic and athletic staff as well as community members voiced concerns and offered suggestions. Most conversation concerned the stadium location, a topic that overlaps many issues.
With no state funding available, a new stadium or renovations to the present one would fall to private donations. According to board member and athletic facility committee member Craig Gottschalk, this has always been the plan.
He also is strong on the board's promise to put any surplus of money (for example, bids coming in low for the school construction project) toward bond retirement.
"I thought that was our original goal especially with times as hard as they are ... We need to develop short- and long-term plans (regarding athletic fields, locker rooms, storage, etc.)," he said, adding he personally would never vote to abandon the present Skip Baughman Stadium.
"Skip wouldn't have cared where the stadium is. He would have been happy playing ball in the parking lot," observed Al Solomon, county sheriff and a soccer coach.
Because the topic overlaps others, the discussion tended to wander. If the stadium remains where it is, should the old concrete bleachers be demolished along with the 1923 building and new bleachers be constructed, some asked. But, why should money be put into the old field if eventually a new stadium will be installed at the new 6-12 complex, others said.
On the other hand, if the old stadium remains with new bleachers, why not build a field house on the site of the former 1923 building thereby providing locker rooms, showers and concessions.
The immediate concern of coach Mark Hollars, who attended the meeting along with athletic director Joe Bline, was where will kids practice, play and change next school year. There were a flurry of suggestions and lengthy general comments.
Gottschalk reiterated his position on short- and long-term planning as well as his priority of retiring bond debt. Board President Ralph Wiley pointed out that paying on the debt would not be a savings, but only early retirement.
The next work session is 6 p.m. Dec. 16 in the district service center.
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The process to form a St. Marys River Watershed group should begin in the next few months.
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