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Coventry district looking for support on ballot

1/24/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

COVENTRY — A piece of deteriorated pipe — showing evidence of multiple patching attempts among the corrosion and areas of disintegration — sits on display in a front room of the office of the Coventry Local Schools Board of Education and district administration building at 3257 Cormany Road.

Coventry residents are invited to come in and examine the pipe pulled recently from one of the aging schools to better understand the daily maintenance challenges present in most district buildings.

“We spend $250,000 to $300,000 a year in duress spending to maintain and fix problems in our buildings,” said Treasurer Aaron Butts. “Our facilities literally are crumbling around the students. We have multiple leaks in the roof of each building, as well as leaks through windows. Our boilers are so old, we simply can’t find parts to replace and repair them. Plus, the boilers are failing inspections each year and the integrity of them continues to dwindle.”

District officials said they want to provide students with improved learning environments, including a new high school.

According to district officials, Coventry employees have been educating the public on the condition of the school facilities so people better understand the reasoning behind a combined levy and bond issue on the Feb. 5 Special Election ballot.

“Come see our facilities. Our kids and our teachers deserve a better teaching and learning environment, and that is the bottom line,” said Superintendent Russell Chaboudy.

The combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue would fund the construction of a new Coventry High School and rehabilitation of other school buildings, district officials said.

Butts explained 4.89 mills would be used for the bond, which would extend 34 years, and 1.1 mills for a permanent improvement levy.

The bond issue/levy would cost most property owners about $13 per month based on the Portage Lakes area’s median household value, according to district officials. It would cost someone older than 65 about $9 per month, Butts said.

This is the district’s second attempt to get the combined levy and bond approved. In the Aug. 7 Special Election, the same issue failed by 53 percent, according to the Summit County Board of Elections.

In May 2012, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) — an independent state agency that helps fund the construction of new schools or renovations to existing ones to improve the education experience — offered the district $11 million toward a $39.3 million construction and renovation project.

According to district officials, this project would include the construction of a ninth- through 12th-grade high school and gymnasium, which would take about two-and-a-half years to complete. Erwine Intermediate School would be demolished, and the new high school built in its place. As part of the project, parking would be improved at the site, as well.

A tennis court tentatively was part of the original project scope, but Chaboudy said it most likely would not be included in the first phase of work. It could be added in the future, however, if state money allows.

If the ballot issue is approved, Erwine would be in operation one additional school year before the building is demolished and the new high school built, Chaboudy said. Erwine students would be temporarily moved to another facility until the project is complete.

Chaboudy said the current high school would be transformed into the district’s elementary school for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Improvements to the site would include a roof and technology upgrades, as well as additional security features. Once the elementary school is ready for the students — in about two-and-a-half years — Turkeyfoot Elementary School would be closed, he said.

If the ballot issue is improved, Coventry Middle School would receive a new heating and cooling system, windows and roof. Additional classrooms would be added, technology and security upgraded and paving completed, officials said.

Preparation work would begin quickly after voter passage, with major renovations to take place at the middle school and high school this summer.

Once the whole project is complete, Coventry Local Schools would have three buildings in close proximity, providing a campus-like setting, Chaboudy said. Having three buildings in operation instead of four would reduce the district’s transportation and energy costs, he added.

“We believe this is not only important for our school system but for our entire community. It is an opportunity to grow and bring some jobs in and some kids back that open-enroll out,” Butts said.

Coventry has about 100 students attending nearby school districts through open-enrollment opportunities, he added.

In addition, passage of this issue could put Coventry in a financial position unseen in more than 20 years, Butts said.

He explained the bond issue would “tremendously” impact the General Fund and allow for a “positive” five-year forecast.

Butts said money generated through the bond issue would be used to pay down debt and maintain district facilities, without having to take money out of the General Fund to do so, which the district currently has to do.

“Our school system continues to do more with less. We had to cut staff, programming and budgets but continue to provide academic excellence. However, we can’t continue on that path and expect the same level of education to take place,” Chaboudy said.

The superintendent said the district needs parental support for the issue to pass Feb. 5.

“To provide the best education, we need modernized facilities that meet the needs of our teachers and students,” he said. “We need our parents behind this.”

Chaboudy said he is pleased there have been more parents spreading the word about the need for the combined issue than there were last summer.

If the district does not approve a bond issue by the end of June, the money being offered by the OSFC would go to another district in the state, district officials said.

“We only have a small window of opportunity to secure state money to assist us with this project, so we need to take advantage of the state offer of $11 million to assist us with building a new high school,” Chaboudy has said.

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