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Firestone/Litchfield design approved

3/28/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

‘Very large school’ projected for completion in October 2015

DOWNTOWN AKRON — It’s full speed ahead on the proposed Firestone/Litchfield Community Learning Center (CLC), following the approval of the schematic design phase by the Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education March 25.

The Joint Board of Review, comprised of members from the school board and city of Akron representatives, approved the design earlier in the day. It will now be sent to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the organization that sets the basic standards for and approves the stages of the buildings.

The school board was provided an update on the building’s planning by Mark Salopek of GPD Group architecture associates. He noted there have been “a number of community meetings and a lot of great input” on the proposed building.

Now that the plans are approved, the schedule “is going to be aggressive,” Salopek said, with Litchfield Middle School already torn down.

The building will include sixth through eighth grades on the middle school side and ninth through 12th on the high school side. The old site had a congestion problem, Salopek said, so the new building will have the Firestone entrance on the east side and the Litchfield entrance on the west for students’ safety. Only the existing natatorium and adjacent auxiliary gym will remain from the current building, he noted.

At 381,000 square feet, “it’s going to be a very large school,” he said.

The look of the proposed building has changed a bit since preliminary plans were presented at the last community meeting at Firestone in January.

According to Salopek, “the community wanted the Firestone entry to be more contemporary,” and he showed renderings of the three-story glass entry, media center to the left of the entrance with a dramatic glass triangle against stone masonry and the red-brick three-story classroom wing. There will be glass stair towers at the corners, he said.

On the Litchfield side, there will be a similar two-story glass entry with stone masonry as well as a red-brick three-story classroom wing.

The Firestone auditorium will be “very nice, very quaint,” he said, “a high-end performing arts center.”

Salopek said the architects and school officials are in discussions with the city about the traffic situation. “We want it to be safe,” he said.

Paul Flesher, APS director of facility planning and capital improvements, said the projected completion date of the combined building is October 2015.

To a question about what will happen with outdoor sports during construction, Debra Foulk, executive director of business affairs, said the Firestone track will be closed in June after the track season ends. They are working on finding locations to accommodate the practices and games for the other sports, including football, soccer and baseball, she said.

In other business, APS Treasurer Jack Pierson provided a preliminary look at the upcoming May five-year forecast.

Public school districts are required to submit a five-year financial forecast to the state twice a year, and the numbers might change a good bit since his previous forecast last November, he said.

One change is that the number of students leaving APS on open enrollment or going to charter schools, private schools on vouchers or other options has declined.

Pierson said based on data from fiscal years 2008 to 2012, last November he projected an average annual enrollment loss of 358. But from the most recent enrollment data from the state foundation, in its second of two monthly reports to the district, he is now projecting a loss of 125 per year instead.

Fewer students leaving the district also would result in fewer dollars leaving with those students, Pierson said. So based on the state’s funding formula, he had projected approximately $150.6 million in state foundation money by fiscal year 2017 but now thinks it might be closer to $155 million.

These are just preliminary numbers, he said, but it’s one bright spot in an otherwise dark financial picture. “We will still need to make significant reductions” before school starts next year, he said.

Complicating the financial picture is the fact that district officials do not know what the final form or amount of education funding will be in Gov. John Kasich’s proposed two-year budget, which is being debated in the Ohio General Assembly.

“We know that these projections will change,” Pierson said.

At the beginning of the meeting, new board member Veronica Sims was sworn in to serve the remaining term of Ginger Baylor, who resigned recently. [See related story beginning on Page 1.]

The board’s next meeting is set for April 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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