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APS board hears rebuilding program update

2/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

Plus, Buchtel wrestling coach asks for practice room

DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education heard an update on the district’s massive school rebuilding program during the Feb. 11 meeting.

Superintendent David James gave the update on the program, which is receiving 59 percent of its funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). The rest is being funded by a voter-approved 0.25-percent increase in the city income tax.

Under the district’s master plan, 26 buildings have been completed. Three are under construction, including King Community Learning Center (CLC), and another three are in the design phase, including the Firestone/Litchfield CLC. There are 12 schools remaining, he said.

That totals 44 CLCs, James said. When the building program began in 2005, there were 58 schools. Since then, as a result of declining enrollment, 12 elementary schools have been closed, James said, and several other schools were repurposed in the district’s efforts at “right-sizing.”

In the first building segment, 13 CLCs were built, including West Akron elementary schools Helen Arnold, Crouse and Resnik.

In segment 2, eight were built, including Portage Path CLC. Segment 3 is under way, James said. Finished buildings include Schumacher and Buchtel/Perkins. Another three are under construction, including King. Rankin has been postponed, James said.

Segment 4 schools, like Firestone/Litchfield, are in the design phase, James said.

The Buchtel cluster buildings are finished, he said, and in the Firestone cluster, only Case Elementary remains. The final build-out year for the program is 2017-18, he said, when the OSFC projects a total district enrollment of 20,137 students.

The next step, James said, is for the facilities committee to convene and assess the remaining projects based on enrollment and funding; prioritize; and make recommendations on any more closures and the timeline for the remaining construction.

According to APS officials, the list of middle and high school buildings to eventually be closed includes Goodyear and Goodrich middle schools, Central-Hower High School and the Kenmore High School Annex building.

In other business, board President Jason Haas said Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently revealed his two-year state budget proposal, and “school funding is a huge topic in it.”

It’s too early to know for sure how it will affect the district’s funding, though, since the Ohio General Assembly will now deliberate over it and likely make changes over the next several months before voting on it, he said.

“Initial figures look like we’ll get a little increase, but information received today shrinks that considerably,” he said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” added Haas, but the district is waiting to see what will be approved. The district still needs to cut $8 million to $9 million to balance its budget for next fiscal year, he said.

Haas said 73 percent of the district’s costs are personnel.

“We’re very efficient with office operations,” so that leaves little besides people and buildings to cut, said Haas. The board will need to figure out the reductions by May, he added, when Treasurer Jack Pierson is required to submit an updated five-year forecast to the state.

Also during the meeting, Buchtel wrestling coach Robert Hubbard addressed the board to ask for funding for a wrestling room in the new building.

He said the wrestling team recently finished second in City Series competition. This high finish was in spite of, not because of, the school building’s training facilities, he said.

When the old Buchtel High School was replaced with the new Buchtel/Perkins CLC, the high school lost its wrestling training room, Hubbard said. Now the wrestlers must share a gym with several other teams and, as a result, can’t practice until 6 p.m., resulting in 12-hour days for the athletes, he said.

Wrestling is “the toughest high school sport there is,” the coach said, adding the wrestlers work so hard they lose 2 to 3 pounds of sweat at every practice.

He said East CLC has a wrestling room and doesn’t even have a team. He has requested to use rooms in schools that have been closed, such as Rankin or Erie Island elementary schools, but has been turned down, he said.

The new Buchtel building was built on the former practice field that was behind the old school. The loss of that practice field in order to locate the new building there was to result in a savings of $11 million, Hubbard said it was reported at the time.

“I know funding is tight, but I’m asking that you try to find the money” for a wrestling room, he said.

Buchtel senior Nevan Strobelt-McCann was named City Series Wrestler of the Year, and William Wilson earned Wrestler of the Tournament honors, Hubbard said.

In other news, board member the Rev. Curtis Walker pointed out it had been a good week for the musical legacy of Akron and the district, beginning with Akron City Council’s honoring of Akronite Ruby Nash Garnett on “Ruby and the Romantics Day.”

The recognition came on the 50th anniversary of the group’s No. 1 hit song, “Our Day Will Come.”

Then Firestone High graduates Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, aka the Black Keys, represented Akron well when they won four Grammy awards Feb. 10, he noted.

Board member Lisa Mansfield added Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts is planning a gala celebration of its 20th anniversary to be held Feb. 23 at the school, 1055 East Ave.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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