Friday, February 16, 2001

Schools' master plan may get aid

State could pick up 59%

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON - City school officials are hoping a week-old state law will bring them more money for a major renovation and construction project that has already begun.

        Work at Garfield, Wilson and Hamilton High schools — under way or completed last summer — might become part of a 10-year, $150 million master facilities plan now being prepared by the Hamilton City Schools.

        If that happens, the state might wind up sharing more of the costs.

        The school board had been poised to adopt the plan this week, but postponed the vote until administrators could review the law to determine what work is eligible for inclusion in the master plan. The plan is tentatively scheduled for adoption Feb. 26.

        “It may not get us more projects, but it would shrink the amount we're short down the road,” said Larry Bowling, president of the school board. “It's important to get every dollar we can.”

        The Ohio School Facilities Commission, founded in 1997, provides money for districts to make repairs to schools or rebuild them based on a formula that takes into consideration residents' income, enrollment and property values.

        Under the formula, Hamilton would be eligible for funds in 2004-2006. The state would pay 59 percent, with Hamilton paying 41 percent. Hamilton's share would come from a $45 million bond issue approved in 1999.

        “We're looking to see if the work qualifies so we could include it in the plan,” said Robert Hancock, Hamilton schools treasurer. “If it meets the guidelines, the savings down the road could be significant."

        House Bill 786 allows districts to include improvement work from March 1999 or later in their master plans, and count their outlay toward their share of the costs. Until the law took effect, the cutoff was last September; so the work the district began last summer was not eligible for cost sharing.

        “We're going through the documents page by page to make sure we haven't forgotten anything,” Mr. Bowling said.

        Last month Superintendent Janet Baker recommended a plan that would replace Hamilton's 14 elementary and kindergarten buildings with nine elementary schools. Ninth-graders would move out of the junior high schools and into a new building. The plan also calls for Wilson and Garfield junior high schools to become middle schools for grades 7 and 8. George Washington Junior High would close.

        Tenth- through 12th-graders would continue to attend Hamilton High and the adjoining Job Development Center, which would become one comprehensive high school. The plan would be implemented over eight to 10 years.


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