July 31, 2014

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Firelands Schools hold out for more money

SOUTH AMHERST — Voters in the Firelands School District won’t be deciding a bond issue for a new high school before next year.

The school board voted Monday night not to put a $24 million bond issue on the November ballot.

The vote was 4-0. Board member Ken Kudela was absent due to out-of-town business obligations, according to Greg Ring, superintendent.

“There wasn’t a lot of discussion,” Ring said. “The board simply felt it was better to wait in the hope we could get more from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission.”

School officials are looking to receive $7 million to $8 million in state money under an OSFC program to help Ohio schools pay for construction of new facilities. If the district receives the funds, it would then ask voters for the remaining
$21 million to $24 million in the form of a bond issue.

That program is separate from another OSFC program that is making $267 million in federal stimulus funds available throughout the state for new school buildings or renovation of existing schools.

The district learned last week it would receive $3.2 million in federal stimulus money at zero percent interest from that program, but Monday’s board vote means the district will pass on the stimulus money.

“The bottom line was that we applied for $20 million in zero percent interest money, and when we got word that we’d receive $3.2 million, it made a big difference (in terms of the millage voters could be asked to approve for a new school),” Ring said. “It’s not that we don’t appreciate what we got. It’s just that it ($3.2 million) wouldn’t make that big a dent in terms of what millage we’d have to ask for.”

After the board notifies the OSFC that it is passing on the $3.2 million in stimulus money, those funds will be released to other school projects around the state, Ring said.

A new high school to replace the current one, which was built in 1954, is a top priority for the rural district, given the expected growth in the district’s 2,000-plus enrollment. If a new high school is built, the district’s aging middle school, built in 1910, would be closed, and its students would then be moved into the existing high school building.

Firelands voters rejected a $42 million, 4.99-mill bond issue in May 2007 that would have been used to pay for a new high school and renovations of the elementary school. Back then, the state would have paid approximately 40 percent of the estimated $24.6 million cost of a new high school.

A marked increase in the number of school districts applying for state money for new facilities has lowered the percentage of costs covered by the schools commission from 40 percent to 33 percent.

“Our turn on the commission’s (funding priority) list should be coming up fairly soon,” Ring said.

The OSFC is scheduled to release a new priority list in November.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.