“We’re in the listening phase,” said Mike Von Gunten, his voice thick with frustration.
Voters denied the Firelands Schools cash for a new building three times last year, support slipping with each successive trip to the polls.
As superintendent, Von Gunten is open now to all ideas for how to handle continuing sewage and septic system problems, aging roofs, antiquated boilers, failing electrical systems, and weathered windows at his schools.
“The fact of the matter is the issues didn’t go away,” he said of the deteriorating buildings.
The 107-year-old South Amherst Middle School on Rt. 113 is his chief concern, followed by the 63-year-old Firelands High School on Vermilion Road.
Von Gunten said voters didn’t want to pay for new construction: “The gap (in levy votes) never closed. Even with additional information, additional tours of our buildings, we couldn’t get any more traction.”
But now taxpayers will have to foot the bill for endless and increasingly expensive repairs. There’s only so far you can push some of the ancient plumbing and generations-worn floors, he said.
“To be able to run school, you have to address the issues, make sure the lights are on, the water’s running, make sure the building is safe for kids,” he said.
Now Firelands is “trying to reach back out to the community and form a game plan to move forward,” which over the next few months will take the shape of community meetings, interviews with residents, and a telephone survey.
The superintendent said he is eager to hear what new ideas are brought forward to keep the schools in operational shape and to learn what residents might support.
State funding is no longer an option. The Ohio Schools Construction Commission had offered to chip in $6.2 million if Firelands voters raised another $29.5 million.
That window closed in August with the 62 to 38 percent failure of the district’s final construction bid at the polls.
Had it passed, the measure would have financed a 6-12 grade complex on Vermilion Road where the high school stands now.
Meanwhile, Amherst Schools voters got a much better deal from the state, accepting $14.2 million and passing a bond issue in November to generate roughly another $18 million. That cash will be used for a PK-3 school on South Lake Street, with demolition of Harris Elementary coming this summer.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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