December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Students to go back to Southview while new LHS is built

Lorain Schools will dust off the cobwebs and move most high school students back into the closed Southview High School in South Lorain while the district’s new $73 million high school is being constructed.

Whittier Middle School, formerly Southview High School, is seen Wednesday in Lorain.

The move will allow the district to more quickly erect a new school at the site of the former Admiral King High School at 2600 Ashland Ave. Construction is expected to take four years, school officials said.

But the decision made at a construction meeting Wednesday morning at Lorain County Community College wasn’t easy because the district just consolidated the former Southview and Admiral King into one school at Admiral King for the 2010-11 school year.

And teachers have concerns, said David Wood, president of the Lorain Education Association, who said the district decided to consolidate the two schools at the Admiral King site because there was not enough space at Southview.

“That’s four years in that environment — a whole generation of students … going to be crammed into a building,” Wood said.

Before making its decision, the board heard from administrators who said there will be enough room for grades 10 to 12 at Southview if ninth-graders are sent to nearby Southview Middle School. A number of modular classrooms also are available, they said.

The board asked Lorain High School Principal Diane Conibear, who presided over the successful consolidation, for her input, and she replied, “I will do and support whatever the board wants to do.”

The vote was 4-1, with board member Tony Dimacchia dissenting. Dimacchia said he has concerns about the educational environment in the old Southview building and said he worries there will not be enough room for special education classes that have strict facility requirements.

Former board member Paul Biber agreed with Dimacchia, blasting the move during the public speaking session of the board’s regular meeting Wednesday night. Biber said if board members had chosen last year to build the high school at 14th Street and Broadway by the Black River, a relocation wouldn’t be needed.

Biber blamed the decision not to build by the river on a “segment of the public” and “disinformation” from some state officials.

“It’s going to be disruptive to the educational process,” he said of the relocation. “There’s going to be a decline in discipline and a decline in academic performance.”

However, board member Jim Smith said that when Southview opened in 1969, there were 17,000 students in the district, compared with about 7,500 now.

He said Southview previously accommodated far more students than it will house in 2012-13.

“Kids are resilient,” he said. “It will work out.”

Acting Superintendent Ed Branham said he asked Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda about the challenges of building a new high school on the same campus where students are attending school.

Branham said he toured Elyria High School and “they did a marvelous job.” However, Branham said Rigda told him “he wishes they had the option we did” to move students away from a construction zone.

Dan DeNicola, Lorain Schools’ chief operating officer, said it would cost about $400,000 for roof repairs and other work at Southview to prepare the school for students to return. The sale of two schools brought in about $380,000 that can be used for that purpose.

The school board also voted 4 to 1 not to incorporate the gymnasium or the auditorium in the current Admiral King building into the new building.

Again, Dimacchia voted no, saying he thought the district should look into preserving the current gym so Lorain would have the chance of hosting Division 1 basketball playoffs.

After the meeting, William Prenosil, senior planning director for the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said that he thought the district made the right choice to build a new gymnasium and auditorium instead of renovating the current structures.

“If they had done that, there would be this small piece left and the building has to fit around it,” Prenosil said. “It’s a case where the tail is wagging the dog.”

The school board voted 5-0 to direct its architect to design $3.8 million of extras including an 800-seat auditorium and 13,000 square feet of additional gym space into the new high school.

The vote does not commit the board to actually funding the work — a decision on that will be made later.

Prenosil said the state would probably allow the district to use some of the $10 million of interest earnings to fund the $3.8 million in extras, but the district should retain about half of the interest earnings as a cushion in the case of cost overruns.

If all goes as planned, the new school will open by the 2016-17 school year.

After the meeting, Chris Smith of Willoughby-based TDA Architecture said he was excited about the prospect of designing the new high school.

The company is wrapping up plans for the John Marshall and Max Hayes schools in Cleveland and designed the John Adams High School building in Cleveland.

Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this article. Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.