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Capital money promised for building Clark State doesn’t own

Clark State Community College has tentatively been granted $1 million from the state to renovate the former Springfield South High School — a building the college does not own.

If lawmakers approve the proposed 2015-2016 capital improvements budget released this week, Clark State Community College would receive that money for a Food and Bioscience Training Center, reportedly to be housed at the former school building in Springfield.

But Clark State doesn’t own that building and has no current agreement with Springfield City Schools to lease it. The 105-year-old school is in need of renovations that could cost anywhere from $6 million to $39 million, according to various estimates reported by the Springfield News-Sun last year.

Since 2012, the idea has been to house the newly-created Global Impact STEM Academy at South High, if feasible.

School leaders say the grades 9-12 science, technology, engineering and math curriculum would pair nicely with Clark State’s planned precision agriculture program. But discussions about the joint venture haven’t been discussed and news of the state money was a surprise to some this week.

“I heard about it when I read it in the paper,” said GISA Board Chair and Springfield City School Board President Ed Leventhal. “Why there wasn’t any communication about this … is beyond me.”

He said to his knowledge there have been no discussions between the two schools about joint use of that building.

The state money, if approved, is to be used for “the repair, reconstruction and construction of capital assets of state agencies, colleges, universities and school districts,” according to the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, which oversees the capital budget request and recommendation process every two years.

Clark State said on Wednesday that the money would be used to support joint agriculture programs for Clark State, Wright State University and Ohio State University. State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, a vocal supporter of the STEM school, said that joint program would re-purpose the old South High.

Kim Fish, director of special projects for Springfield City Schools, said the addition of the college program to the South High project seems like it would fit with the mission of GISA. But she added that the district would like to know more about what Clark State envisions.

“We are working with a number of partners to bring South back online to serve the community. We’re interested in learning more about how this project could be part of that effort,” she said.

The district, which still owns the property but plans to lease it to GISA, is currently in the process of writing another grant application for funds, with the intention of renovating the building for shared use with several partners.

“We’re glad to see a piece of this project getting financial support from the state. It’s a project that can have great educational and workforce development impact,” Fish said.

“It’s still pending legislation, so we’ll watch it with interest,” she continued. “In order to make a facility as big as South serve the community, we are trying to bring together lots of partners.”

Jennifer Dietsch, Director of Marketing for Clark State, said the new agriculture program itself is still pending approval.

“The precision agriculture curriculum has been developed and pending approval from the Ohio Board of Regents, the program will start in the fall,” she said. “We’ve already received interest from students interested in starting the program.”

GISA is leasing space from Clark State for its first and second years of operation, and has about 50 freshman students. Director Joshua Jennings said they’ve gotten just shy of 100 applications for the 2014-2015 school year and hope to have between 150 and 175 students for year two.

Jennings said the plans for a permanent home are still up in the air, but the South High building continues to be an option.

“The board continues to consider all options to facilitate our school’s needs for long-term housing,” he said. “South is one of those options.”

He said GISA already actively collaborates with Clark State, Wright State and Ohio State on educational opportunities for students, but he had no prior knowledge of a planned joint use at the high school.

“If this leads us in that direction then that’s fantastic,” Jennings said.

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