By MAX FILBY
The Findlay school board approved the district’s purchase of a residence next to Donnell Middle School for $150,000 in a 4-1 vote on Monday.
The residence, at 323 Baldwin Ave., will be purchased with permanent improvement funds.
Superintendent Ed Kurt recommended the board make the purchase, and consider expanding the school’s parking lot and making changes to the bus exit and entryways.
“For any event, we don’t have enough parking and it isn’t very handicap accessible,” Kurt said.
Although no official decision on what to do with the property has been made, Kurt said he expects to know in the next two weeks.
“We’re going to take a look at the traffic and see what we have room for,” Kurt said. “Maybe we won’t even have to tear the house down.”
The district is purchasing the house from Don Williams, who is principal at Donnell Middle School.
Kurt said buying the property from a district employee meant extra scrutiny needed to be taken during the appraisal process. In October 2010, the Hancock County Auditor’s Office gave the property a $112,330 market value. Williams and his wife purchased the property for $140,000 in October 1997, according to the county auditor’s online database.
“We’re not trying to hide this from anybody,” Kurt said. “We’re open about what we’re doing.”
While the board approved the purchase, board member Barbara Lockard voted against it.
“I do feel perhaps that it could be spent in a better way,” Lockard said about the $150,000.
Although Lockard said she thought $150,000 was a fair price for the residence, she said it wasn’t a good price for a piece of land the district may convert into a parking lot. The property will likely only allow for another 20 to 25 spaces to be added to the cramped parking lot at Donnell, she said.
“That doesn’t even include demolition costs,” Lockard said about the price tag.
Lockard also said the district should think more about its footprint and to make sure the district was abiding by its original goal in building Donnell — to make it “fit in” with the neighborhood rather than encroach on it.
“It does not seem like good neighborhood preservation,” Lockard said. “That house helps make (the neighborhood) unique.”
Kurt said he respects Lockard’s opinion on the purchase, and said it’s always the board’s choice whether to proceed with such purchases.
“I totally respect everyone’s opinion whether it’s a 5-0 vote or a 4-1 vote,” he said.
Donnell isn’t the first city school to get a parking lot or bus route makeover recently. Just a few weeks before school started, the district built a drive around the Washington Preschool and Administration Building to allow buses from Findlay High School and Millstream Career Center to exit onto Howard Street. The project was paid for with permanent improvement funds, and cost $20,000 to construct in about a week, said Dennis McPheron, facilities director for the district.
The school board also unanimously approved the district’s 2015 budget on Monday.
The district is predicting revenues will increase by about $1.7 million in 2015 due to property tax increases and higher dollar amounts from state and federal grants. At the same time, the district’s total expenditures are expected to increase by about $1.2 million, according to the five-year forecast.
Treasurer Michael Barnhart said the district’s good “financial health” is the result of a 2.5-mill, $2 million levy voters passed in 2006, another in 2009 that replaced two schools and built Millstream Career Center, and a 5.9-mill, $4.8 million levy that voters passed in May.
“With the help of our voters, we have been able to methodically address various issues over the past few years to put us in such a position,” Barnhart said.
Despite the help from voters, Barnhart said there are still challenges and unfunded mandates the state and federal governments dictate to districts, but he said the district is in a good position to deal with them.
“We still have financial variables and uncertainties out there but not as many as 10 years ago,” Barnhart said. “We are in the best financial shape we have been to handle such uncertainty and challenges.”
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