SPRINGFIELD — Area leaders could learn in about a month if the old South High School will be home to a new agricultural bioscience STEM school that could bring up to 60 jobs.
The project needs an estimated $10.5 million for renovations and startup costs.
Eight entities — including Clark County commissioners and Springfield commissioners — have been tapped to help provide $1.5 million in local funding, according to a letter to Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee obtained by the Springfield News-Sun.
City officials would pay $50,000 over two years toward the school, and county commissioners may pledge up to $125,000 in exchange for free rent for the Ohio State University Extension Center.
The proposed pledge by the county came as a surprise to Commissioner David Hartley, who said he knew nothing about the county’s discussions until last week.
“I had to call (Mike) McDorman to find out how much we had pledged. It would have been nice if I would have been kept in the loop here. I don’t know who made this decision, but I sure as hell didn’t, because I didn’t know anything about it,” Hartley said.
Other organizations that have agreed to pledge funds are: the Dayton Development Coalition, the Turner Foundation, the Springfield Foundation, the Springfield Port Authority, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield and Clark County Community Improvement Corporation, according to the letter.
“In the greater Springfield area, both public and private partners have come together and agreed to pledge $1.5 million in local support towards the capital improvements that would need to take place at the historical site in Springfield,” according to the letter signed by McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
Hartley, a Democrat, said Commissioners John Detrick and Rick Lohnes, both Republicans, had not talked to him about pledging money toward the project.
Detrick and Lohnes said the county has been asked to contribute funds toward renovations, and preliminary talks have also included discussions about free rent for the extension center.
But both denied attempts to keep Hartley out of the loop and stressed that no decisions have been made.
“I certainly haven’t committed any money,” Lohnes said. “We haven’t committed any money. We’re still waiting to see what they’re going to do. I don’t know that they’ve made an absolute positive decision to put the STEM school there.”
Detrick said commissioners could vote on whether to pledge funds for renovations in a couple weeks.
Area leaders have been trying to raise $1.5 million for the STEM School for about a month and are close to reaching their goal, McDorman said.
McDorman said officials also need to raise an additional $1.5 million from businesses with ties to the farm science and agriculture industry.
Other funds are expected to come from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop.
The proposed school is expected to open in fall 2013 for students in grades nine and 11. In 2014, the school will add 10th and 12th grades with the hope of eventually expanding to educate grades six through 12, Estrop said.
Sen. Chris Widener said the school could bring 50 to 60 teaching and administrative jobs to the community.
The Ohio State University, the Ohio Farm Bureau and Battelle, an international science and technology company based in Columbus, are reviewing plans for the school and will decide in about 30 days if South High School will be the site.
Leaders in other communities — including Lima, Toledo and Wooster — also have expressed interest in having a STEM school in their areas, Widener said.
But OSU’s Gee said last month that Springfield was the prime location for the school.
Estrop said he’s “cautiously optimistic” South High School will be the location for the STEM school.
Discussions about opening the proposed school come as county commissioners are trying to relocate the OSU Extension Center, which would need to move from the Clark County Agricultural Services Building, 4400 Gateway Blvd., to make way for the expansion of a commercial crane company nearby that is in negotiations to lease the county-owned building.
Possible new locations for the extension center are the STEM school, the Springview Government Center and a building on the fairgrounds, Detrick said. Commissioners are required to pay a portion of local extension center salaries and provide free rent space for the local office.
Last month, Detrick told OSU extension officials that the STEM school would be a perfect location for the local office, but asked if the county could be relieved of paying rent for it.
“We would honor our commitment as we have in the past to the salaries of our extension people. In addition to operating monies we contribute to our local cooperative extension program, we would consider a significant one-time payment to renovate the new agricultural STEM building for use of our extension office provided we no longer be responsible for ongoing space costs,” Detrick wrote.
Keith L. Smith, OSU Extension director and agricultural administration associate vice president, responded, saying it would be beneficial for the extension center to collaborate with the STEM program.
But he reiterated that local extension offices are all provided free rent and said he could not make a commitment to use state or federal funds for rental space in Clark County.
Linda Donaldson and Tina Compton, both 4H advisers, say while they support the STEM school, they would prefer the extension office to be closer to or on the fairgrounds.
“With 4H we do a lot of activities out there (at the fair). But if (the extension office) moved, I could live with it,” Donaldson said. “The only thing that is constant is change, and you’ll find that the 4H family would adjust, but that doesn’t mean we would all be happy.”
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