Clark County commissioners delayed a decision about contributing $100,000 to the Global Impact STEM Academy due in part to uncertainty about the project.
Commissioner John Detrick in December proposed allocating $100,000 toward the school, but on Tuesday he asked commissioners David Hartley and Rick Lohnes to wait 30 to 45 days before deciding on whether to fund the science, technology, engineering and mathematics school. Detrick said it was the result of county budget concerns and questions raised in recent weeks about the project by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
“I was the one pushing the STEM school. I’m still not opposed to it, but I would like to maybe sit on it until we find out what direction it’s going in Columbus,” Detrick said.
Global Impact supporters want to establish the state’s first school dedicated to an agricultural bioscience curriculum that focuses on jobs in food, fuel and fiber fields. The school would go inside the former South High School, and backers estimate renovating the building will cost between $6.6 million and $9.6 million.
However, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission estimates it would cost approximately $39.84 million to renovate the entire complex or $23.1 million to renovate the 70,000 square feet sought for the school, according to a Springfield News-Sun investigation.
OFCC officials are also worried the school would pull existing public school students from nearby districts, compete with technology and vocational courses already offered by those districts, and renovate too much instruction space based on declining population and enrollment.
David Estrop, superintendent of Springfield City Schools, disputes those claims and said it isn’t the OFCC’s place to decide what new programs get implemented in the state.
While the OFCC’s questions have caused commissioners to delay funding the project, Estrop said the questions have only strengthened support from other local organizations.
Global Impact supporters need to raise $4.5 million for facility renovation if OFCC agrees to provide 50 percent of the funding, Estrop said.
Officials already have $1.25 million in local funds or pledges from the Dayton Development Coalition, the Turner Foundation, the Springfield Foundation, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield and Clark County Community Improvement Corporation, Estrop said.
The Dayton Development Coalition and Wright State University also are partners on the project. Last week, Springfield city commissioners awarded $50,000 toward the project.
County commissioners were asked in June to pledge about $100,000, but Detrick is the only commissioner so far who supports that.
Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said the county’s support is critical to the project.
“Our role in the STEM school is to help raise local funding, and in order to for that to happen, we’re going to need the county’s support,” McDorman said. “This is an opportunity not only for students in our community and our county, but for several (surrounding) counties.”
County Administrator Nathan Kennedy said he did not include an allocation for the school in drafts of 2013 budget and has cautioned commissioners about the idea, saying they must consider the possibility of state cuts to local government funds, and reductions in sales tax and casino revenue.
Hartley and Lohnes have yet to support pledging $100,000 or any amount toward the school, and both now question whether the project will be approved.
“I don’t think it’s as solid as it was for coming here. It still looks like they’re resolving some issues,” Lohnes said. “It’s a great concept. It’s a wonderful idea. But I have not committed to funding (the project.) I just can’t … When we find out that it’s going to happen, we will make a decision.”
Hartley said he’s simply not ready to make a decision on funding the project.
“In my mind there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Hartley said.
Estrop said Global Impact officials remain confident the school will get approved by the state and said discussions with OFCC are ongoing.
OFCC officials are expected to be in Springfield today to tour schools and discuss additional details about the project, Estrop said.
“(The school) is going to create more opportunities not only for students but the entire area. If we improve the skills and education of our workforce, it will stimulate economic development in our area,” Estrop said.