Whitehall News

Kae Ave. to get fix-up, house preschoolers

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Whitehall's old Kae Avenue Elementary School will be spared from the wrecking ball and will house preschoolers after renovations are completed.

The Whitehall Board of Education made the decision official Feb. 14, allowing the district to address its classroom shortage by renovating the old school to give the preschool a bigger, better-suited home. The decision also allows for at least some renovations to the old portion of Whitehall-Yearling High School that was saved from demolition last year.

On the exterior, aesthetic upgrades to both the high school and the old Kae Avenue school might have to wait, though, until funds are available, district officials said.

Administrators and board members met in special session in January to discuss the district's overcrowding problem and a plan to tackle enrollment and other construction issues. During the special session, members informally agreed with the district's recommendation to add 12 new classrooms to Whitehall's three new elementary schools -- a recommendation also endorsed by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (formerly the Ohio School Facilities Commission).

Board members also informally agreed to keep part of the old Kae Avenue Elementary School, which will be used as a new home for the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Development Center and two other district special-education preschool rooms; to demolish the old C. Ray building; and to continue with plans to renovate the back portion of the old Whitehall-Yearling High School, giving priority to the interior over the exterior, depending on available funding.

Before the board made its earlier decision more formal last week, project manager Craig Kertesz, of Ruscilli Construction, presented two renovation options.

One involves completely refurbishing the existing portion of the old Whitehall-Yearling High School, demolishing the old Kae Avenue school and keeping the C. Ray operations in the existing building, which, according to administrators there, is insufficient and outdated.

The other option involves splitting funds for renovations between the old Kae Avenue and the old portion of Whitehall-Yearling, completing enough upgrades to open their doors but waiting until further funding is available in 2015 to complete aesthetic upgrades. The preschool would be razed under the latter option and would be moved into the old Kae Avenue school.

Board members, who expressed concerns over the high school's look last year, agreed that Kertesz' second option would be the proper approach.

"Aesthetics are nice," board member Blythe Wood said, "but educating our students is our priority."

The rest of the board agreed and voted unanimously to go with the latter plan.

According to figures presented by Kertesz, the total project is expected to come in under budget, at about $5.8 million. The savings would help pay for the 12 new classrooms needed to address district overcrowding -- at a price of $3.2 million.

After the state is reimbursed for its portion of the savings, Whitehall will be left with slightly more than $1 million. Combined with a projected $1.6 million earned interest income on project dollars, Whitehall should have nearly $2.6 million to renovate the old Kae Avenue and the remaining portion of the old Whitehall-Yearling.

The C. Ray center would have to be torn down at the district's expense.

Also at last week's regular monthly meeting, board members gave their formal approval for plans to add 12 new classrooms to Whitehall's three new elementary schools, as also recommended by the OFCC.

The formal motion gave architects the go-ahead to begin the design process.

Kertesz said the project would move "full steam ahead."

He said he hopes to return to the board next month with a projected timeframe for completion of the 12 new classrooms and the renovations to the old Kae Avenue and the old Whitehall-Yearling facilities.

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