SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION Girard residents get pros, cons on sites

GIRARD -- About 60 residents attended the board of education's third public forum Wednesday concerning the district's proposal to build a new junior-senior high school. Many came with questions, but not all were answered during a presentation by Michael Carter and Christopher Smith of Stantec-ThenDesign Architecture.
Last spring, the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission assessed the current condition of the building at Ward and Liberty streets and found numerous concerns, including classroom size, parking, security, fire safety, ventilation and the number of electrical outlets. There is also a need to bring the school up to code concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are about 900 pupils in grades seven through 12.
"The OSFC's objective is to bring all school districts up to a level playing field, both educationally and facilitywise," said Carter. "It provides part of the money and the district matches those funds at varying levels for construction of the new building. It's a limited time offer. Schools are ranked within the state and it's Girard's turn. If you don't take advantage of this, those dollars are just going to go away."
Renovation of the 80-year-old building would cost about $16.5 million, while a new high school would cost $22.6 million. According to Carter, the OSFC deemed the building not worthy of renovation because of its age, amenities and condition of its infrastructure. Therefore, if the cost to renovate a school is more than two-thirds the cost of building a new one then the school becomes eligible for state funds. If a school bond issue on the May ballot is passed, the school district will receive $17.2 million, or 76 percent of the cost of new construction, from the OSFC.
"We've got this opportunity and we'd be derelict if we didn't tell you about it," said schools Superintendent Joseph Jeswald.
Plans for the project also include an increase in the size of the property at the current site. The property is just four acres, far short of the 44 acres that the state standards recommend as the minimum for a school with enrollment the size of Girard's. Therefore, alternative building sites also are being considered, including 110 acres on the current site of the Mahoning Country Club and 64 acres of the city-owned Liberty Park.
The presentation pointed out the pros and cons of each of the district's options.
For the Liberty Memorial Park option, the pros included a lower acquisition cost and access to the football stadium. However, accessibility, potential environmental concerns and much higher site development costs were considered to be impediments.
The Mahoning County Country Club site has excellent access, lower site development costs and plenty of room for development. However, the cost to acquire the site is considerably higher.
As for the prospect of using the existing school site, the site is centrally located and the school would be able to keep its auditorium and gymnasium. However, it falls far short of the minimum standard of acreage set by the state, and there also are traffic and potential environmental issues.
"When renovating or building a new one on the same site the students have to be put somewhere," said Carter. "That usually is in modular classrooms, trailers, and then you put the students back when it's completed."
The biggest concern voiced by those in attendance was that they do not yet know all the facts.
"From what I hear around town, most people want to know, 'What are we going to have to give up if we want a new school?'" said Jane Harris.
The next forum is slated for 7 p.m. Feb. 7.

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