The Lake Local School District is in talks with Owens Community College to use a building on campus to house Lake High School students come fall.
According to Jeff Carpenter, treasurer, the district’s goal is to keep all of the 550 high school students together.
“Right now, Jim Witt (superintendent), is in discussions with Owens,” Carpenter said. “They do have a building with enough space to serve our students. That is the most likely candidate for where our high school will be come fall.”
Carpenter stressed that although plans are not finalized, the district and the Board of Education are working to keep high school life as normal as possible.
“This is an extremely fluid situation with things happening fast,” Carpenter said. “It is very much a priority to keep the high school kids together. The board and the district is committed to doing whatever it takes to keep them together. There will be no parceling them out to other schools.”
“Our intention is to keep all of the students together and get through the best we can,” Carpenter added.
Carpenter could not give final damage estimates to the high school as well as junior high and elementary school buildings, he said he has given FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) an initial estimate.
“We have nothing hard and firm right now on damage the estimates, but we gave FEMA an estimate of $40-$45 million. That is our initial ballpark figure,” Carpenter said. “Traveler’s Insurance, our primary insurer, is on site as we speak but we have no idea right now what insurance will cover. We do not know whether we are going to knock down the high school and start over or whether we keep what is salvageable and build onto that. There are different costs associated with those options. It could be three weeks to 30 days before we have handle on it.”
The ability for the district to get FEMA help is also still up in the air.
“It is my understanding that FEMA has to declare the entire area, including the areas in Michigan, a disaster area before the agency’s funds will be available,” Carpenter said.
The district will also look to the Ohio School Facilities Commission’s Emergency Assistance Program for some help, Carpenter said.
“After insurance and FEMA, we will have to explore what options we have with the commission,” Carpenter said. “We know where we fall in the priorities and funding formula from the commission and that is in the 75th percentile. Based on our valuation per pupil, we are eligible for 25 percent of funding for a new building. In comparison, Genoa can get 56 percent funding for new buildings.”
Carpenter said he is hoping to have a meeting with the members of the commission this week.
“I would like to know how hard and fast their rules are on this and if there is any flexibility given the catastrophic circumstances we are in,” he said.
The district is also busy trying to access and hopefully fix damage to the junior high and elementary school buildings in time for August.
“Engineers are on site right now,” Carpenter said. “We have damage to all three buildings. There are roof, window and door issues at both buildings. Those issues, we feel at this time, can be fixed in time for school in the fall.”
Level of destruction
School Board President Tim Krugh said that he believes insurance will cover the damaged buildings as well as the stadium but may not cover damage to the rest of the school grounds.
“It sounds like we have enough insurance to cover this but some things will not be covered,” Krugh said. “Rudolph/Libbe is securing the site, as well as doing some demolition and they are beginning to do some repair work on the elementary and junior high.”
Krugh said that the elementary school has more significant damage than what was first thought.
“There is a lot more damage to the elementary building than can be seen with the naked eye,” Krugh explained. “The roof was lifted off of the building and then brought back down so there is structural damage.
Hopefully, what is not covered by insurance, we can take steps to get funding from the federal and state government.”
Rudolph/Libbe will serve as the general contractor for the repair work at the elementary and junior high buildings.
“Rudolph/Libbe was here almost immediately,” he said. “They have been nothing short of magnificent. They have done a remarkable job getting the site as clean as it is right now. We have told our insurer that we want them to do the high school as well.”
The school’s records and archives were retrieved last week, Carpenter said adding that they do not appear to have suffered water damage.
The district is very grateful for all of the support it has received from the community as well as other districts, Carpenter said.
The Columbus City Schools has offered to donate 10 school buses for Lake to use for summer school, Carpenter said. Seven out of the 23 buses in the district’s fleet are a total loss.
“We have had immediately responses from the five surrounding districts offering us help,“ he said. “That help included using their facilities to hold graduation. We appreciate all of their support.”
Krugh added that it will be a long and difficult effort rebuilding the campus but the district is up to the challenge, thanks to help from its friends.
“The level of destruction is so much worse than you can imagine,” Krugh said. “There is no playbook for this. It is going to be a challenging and difficult process. The outpouring of support from our neighbors, meaning the police and fire departments, the community, neighboring communities and school districts, has been inspiring. I am very proud to be a member of the Lake community. It just proves that we may have rivalries but when we need help, everyone comes together and rolls up their sleeves to get things done.”