Libbey could meet wrecking ball in FebruaryWritten by Michael Stainbrook | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Libbey High School might be a pile of rubble less than a year after its final graduates received their diplomas.
The Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education is taking steps to ensure the building either will be sold or demolished in 2011. The Board’s desire to act on the 87-year-old structure results from ongoing fiscal woes.
According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), TPS must begin the demolition process by Dec. 31, 2011 for the Ohio Board of Education to pay for any of the project. OSFC will pay 77 percent of demolition costs if the building is razed by then. Otherwise, TPS must foot the entire bill, which could top $3 million.
“The timeline is given to us by the state,” said Board president Bob Vasquez. “There’s a certain time by which we must make a decision.”
To proceed with demolition, OSFC requires any building fit for educational use to be offered to charter schools for 60 days. If no agreement to acquire the property results during that time, the school district may level the building.
Warren Woodberry, 2011 president of the Toledo Board of Community Relations, doubts any charter school will show interest in the massive structure on Western Avenue.
“They know that no charter school is going to buy that whole complex,” he said. “That’s 44 acres. [Charter schools] are for-profit, and for-profit, they want small operations with a lot of kids. That’s a little farfetched.”
At the Dec. 15 Board OSFC committee meeting, TPS chief business manager Jim Gant suggested filing the letter to charter schools on Dec. 22, the day after the Board’s next general meeting. That would make the building eligible for razing as early as Feb. 20. Gant expressed his approval of advancing toward demolition on a “short timeframe.”
“We just want to make sure this process is going along … because we are under time constraints,” he said.
The Board has not started accepting bids for the demolition contract but does not need to wait until after the 60-day period to do so. With OSFC paying more than three-fourths of the leveling costs, Vasquez said he expects the district’s share to fall between $800,000 and about $1 million.
But TPS has options other than leveling Libbey. One alternative would allow the City of Toledo to acquire the property from the school district. At the OSFC committee meeting, Board member Lisa Sobecki spoke in favor of keeping the city’s option open until the middle of February. She said a definite timeline would keep any discussion on task and would allow the Board to move forward with the demolition process if no agreement was reached.
Libbey Graduate and Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins said Toledo does not have space in its budget for Libbey.
“Clearly the City of Toledo is not in a position to take over the responsibilities of maintaining and ownership of that building,” he said. “We do not have the ability to do that financially, nor do we have a need for it.”
Vasquez recently sent a letter to more than a dozen nonprofit organizations in the area to measure interest in acquiring the building. The Board of Community Relations received one of those letters.
“It’s unlimited what can go in those facilities,” Woodberry said. “I’m sure an appeal could be made to fund a community facility in that neighborhood. We would have 100-percent neighborhood support.”
Woodberry is particularly interested in finding a use for the skills center, field house and football field, none of which were a part of the original structure built in 1923. He said Little League baseball games could take place on school grounds, while after-school programs could be housed inside. The field house, he said, could host community events and provide local residents with a place to exercise.
Even if part of the building is razed, Woodberry said the newer sections should be saved, although questions exist whether the utilities that service these parts of the school can still function if the original building is removed. Libbey has central heating that might not be operable without the building’s core. The skills center is connected to the original structure by a hallway.
“Once you take out the hallway, they’re two separate buildings,” he said. “It’s not like they’re wall-to-wall. It looks like it’s standalone heat and air conditioning.”
Woodberry is not alone in fearing the neighborhood will lose its identity if the former high school is brought to the ground. The South Toledo YMCA also closed in December 2009.
“I feel that Toledo Public Schools has created a great injustice to that area of our city,” Collins said.
“I realize that the fiscal issues that the Toledo Public Schools system has are overwhelming. However, to deprive an entire neighborhood of their school with all the new construction that went on throughout the City of Toledo is compromising a neighborhood that Libbey students reside in.”
Councilman Mike Craig, who represents the Libbey area, said he had not been contacted by anyone about plans to demolish the school.
“The field house is an excellent field house. That’s definitely something that should be saved,” he said. “The building itself is historic. It does anchor the neighborhood. I don’t know if they should rush into demolishing this building.”
Vasquez defended his business-centered position by pointing to the district’s economic troubles.
“My whole thing with the Libbey building is this: because of the budget deficit, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have the state pay,” he said.
“There’s no bad will in that. From my point of view, we need to get out from under the cost, and so we don’t get stuck with the entire cost of demolishing it.”
If the building fails to sell, Woodberry would rather see it donated to the community than destroyed.
“If they tear it down, there’s no value; if they donate it, there’s some value,” he said.
“TPS has sold schools for a dollar. They washed their hands, which is what they said they wanted to do.”
Vasquez did not say whether the board would look to donate the building if it did not sell, noting a majority of Board members would have to approve any transaction.
One step in the process that has been delayed is the auctioning of the school’s contents. The auction was originally slated for Monday, Dec. 20, but at the Dec. 15 meeting, Sobecki moved to postpone the sale until January or February. She cited a lack of publicity and the poorly received auction at the old Scott High School as her reasoning.
“The board members were never notified (about the Scott auction). I woke up that morning to news stations calling me going, ‘what about this auction?’ and I had no idea,” she said.
“We would be criticized beyond belief because I know there’s a huge interest in people that are waiting for the day which we do the auction.”
Woodberry was concerned the auction would remove value from parts of the building he is interested in preserving.
“We want to hold on to whatever they’re trying to save,” he said. “They could go in there … and auction off all the seats in the gym. They can auction off the lights, the benches, the seats, all the desks and everything.”