September 15, 2014

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North Ridgeville schools in hunt for money to replace deteriorated, overcrowded middle school

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The North Ridgeville Board of Education is applying to the state for $9.3 million that could go toward the cost of a new elementary-middle school.

The board is submitting an application to the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission’s Exceptional Needs Program, which awards money toward the cost of new schools based on severity of problems such as aging buildings, overcrowding and general deterioration.

The need for a new school has been evident for years, owing to a number of factors ranging from the age of the current middle school, built in 1923, to its increasingly crowded conditions, according to William Green, the district’s executive director of business services.

The middle school was designed to hold up to 780 students but has a projected enrollment for the 2013-14 school year of 960.

“On top of that, the state recommends classrooms of 900 square feet, and we average 649 square feet for 30 students,” Green said. “We are just packed to the gills.”

School officials are expressing cautious optimism about their chances to receive the funds, which would pay 17 percent of a projected $52 million to build a new school for grades three through eight, according to Green.

“The state is not guaranteeing the money to us, but every time we have talked with the commission, they say it’s ‘very likely’ we will receive our money,” Green said.

The district expects to receive a decision in May.

If the district doesn’t get the $9.3 million, it will make it very tough to sell the community on a bond issue to finance approximately $43 million, or 83 percent, of the costs of a new school, Green said.

No decision has been made on the bond issue, but school officials are looking at one that would likely run for 28 to 30 years.

One of the biggest advantages of the Exceptional Needs Program, Green said, is that it allows North Ridgeville to cut its waiting time for state funds to help build a new school.

The district is slated to have its request for new school funds considered in 2017 or 2018.

“We keep getting pushed back on the list,” school board Vice President Frank Vacha said. “We can’t go any longer. The middle school is by far our worst building.”

Once a school system is awarded state funds, it has a year in which to pass a bond issue. If voters don’t approve a bond issue within that time, the funds are returned to the state and used for another school district on the waiting list.

“At that point we go back to the drawing board,” Green said.

Passage of a 5.9-mill, 10-year emergency operating levy last November and the anticipated renewal of a 2.53-mill, 10-year levy in May would bolster the district’s odds for the state dollars, Green said.

“We’ve typically done very well with renewals,” Green said.

If a new school is built, Fields Sweet School, which dates to 1920 and houses kindergarteners, and Wilcox Elementary, which was built in the mid-1950s and houses second- through fifth-graders, would be closed.

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