WADSWORTH — Superintendent Andrew Hill challenged Ohio Facilities Construction Commission officials to find room for roughly 700 students that would be displaced if a replacement for Central Intermediate School is not built.
“There is a lot at stake here, dollar wise for the city of Wadsworth,” Hill said Thursday during a special school board meeting with the OFCC and city officials.
“Truthfully, we feel that is money that was promised to us and now all of the sudden it isn’t going to be here and we are really having a hard time wrapping our heads around that.”
The district was notified earlier this year that it no longer qualifies for more than $15 million in state funding because of a 2016 policy change that addresses how the commission defines excess space within a public school district. This happened although district officials believed the funding was secure as they thought it was tied to a previous construction project.
Treasurer Doug Beeman said during the district’s September board meeting that when the district passed a bond issue to construct the high school, as well as three elementary schools, an analysis by the commission indicated Central Intermediate School, 151 Main St., should also be replaced.
Beeman said then that the district and community did not feel the school, which serves fifth- and sixth-grade students, was at the end of its useful life and decided to segment that portion of the plan out.
“What that meant was we took that portion of planning and just put it on the back burner for the moment and in the future we could come back in and revisit that,” Beeman said.
District officials were notified earlier this year that because of a lack of district growth, it no longer needed the additional space a replacement Central would provide and those students could be dispersed among the districts remaining buildings.
“So our guidelines continually evolve and improve over time,” OFCC official Melanie Drerup said during the meeting. “Policies that evolve over time are applied to projects as we move forward to the commission, so when we move your next segment to the commission, we would be applying policies that are current at that time.”
Hill said that by electing to segment district construction, it believed the funding would be available to them if and when it decided to move forward with additional construction.
“We felt like the money would be there when and if we decided to move forward, not that there would be any question that somehow the rules would change and all of the sudden we would lose access to that money,” he said.
OFCC Senior Planning Administrator Bill Prenosil said it all comes down to the numbers.
“It is all generated by the number of students because the original master plan (from 2009) we had projected 5,886 students for this school year,” Prenosil said. “Based on the report that I got from (Hill) on what your current enrollment is, you are like more than 1,000 less than that.”
According to data provided by Hill, the current district enrollment is 4,557 students.
Wadsworth has eight building including Wadsworth High School, Wadsworth Middle School, Franklin, Lincoln, Isham, Overlook and Valley View elementary schools in addition to Central.
Prenosil said that even if the district had the numbers it needs to receive state funding for a Central replacement, it could be six to eight years before the project came to fruition.
Board member Amanda Gordon said she does not see any reason why the district should not qualify for the funding under the rules that were in place during the 2009 agreement to segment.
“I would hope that we can try to think of another way of addressing this so that we could still qualify under those rules that we had at the time,” she said.
Other questions addressed during the meeting included how the commission factors in available space in regards to special education facilities, where a classroom could occupy 25 students on paper, but because of its special education use may only accommodate eight students, and also inconsistencies in data showing the size of some of its elementary schools.
“So we make a decision trying to be good stewards of (residents’) money and not ask for more than what we need and then it turns around and now here we are in a situation that we wouldn’t have been able to predict,” Hill said.
“So my point is it just seems like when a district enters into something like this they shouldn’t be able to be negatively impacted by it when they go back to do what they were originally allowed to do.”