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Board votes against King

By John Published: June 29, 2010

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

King Elementary School's 1923 building on Memorial Parkway — known for its architecture and historic connection to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron — should be demolished and replaced.

That was the recommendation on Monday of the 10-member joint board of city and school officials overseeing Akron's nearly $800 million school construction project.

The vote to replace rather than renovate and expand the structure was 7-3 following a presentation that showed the cheapest renovation option would cost $3 million more than replacement — about a third of the extra cost in masonry alone.

The five members representing the district were unanimous, joined by Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville and Ward 7 Councilwoman Tina Merlitti.

Rick Merolla, Diane Miller-Dawson and Laraine Duncan — all appointed members of Mayor Don Plusquellic's Cabinet — voted against replacement, echoing the mayor's desire to see the King building saved.

''I've advocated forever that we keep some of the old buildings,'' Plusquellic said. ''Most are more beautiful than the new stuff. I think they had an alternative that made more sense to me.''

The Akron school board usually votes on recommendations from the joint board on the same day, but the outcome this time was in doubt, so the school board will vote at its next meeting, said the Rev. Curtis T. Walker Sr., board president, who voted for replacement.

''If there were any problems, we would have had time to do some negotiations in between now and when we needed to vote, but that didn't need to happen,'' Walker said.

Walker was confident the school board would adopt the recommendation because it makes good business sense.

''The new building represents the wishes and desires of the majority of the community and the teachers,'' Walker said. ''I think we'll vote in favor of the new building.''

The school board's next meeting is July 12.

The state is paying for 59 percent of the basic cost of the projects. A voter-approved city income tax hike pays the remainder, plus any extras the state won't help fund. The schools — known as community learning centers — double as community centers after classes let out.

The joint board considered three options for King:

• Replace the school at a cost of nearly $15 million, with the state picking up about half the cost. The new building would be constructed a little closer to Memorial Parkway to allow for an extra row of parking behind the building and more efficient entry and exit from Royal Avenue.

• Renovate and expand the school and partially finish the basement — which now houses kindergarten and first-grade classrooms — for future meeting and office space. That option, which no one favored, would cost about $3.8 million more.

• Renovate in a way that would improve traffic flow and parking, but leave the basement mostly empty. Merolla, Miller-Dawson and Duncan favored this plan.

''It's a phenomenal old building, a very majestic building,'' Merolla said. ''$3 million is the estimate now. It could be more, it could be less, but I'm thinking, 50 years from now that majestic building would still be there and people would be happy that we preserved it.''

Merolla said the district would have found a use for the extra space, about 14,000 square feet in the basement.

Walker said that preserving and maintaining a mostly unused basement was a waste of money.

''It was obvious from the way the vote went that the mayor wanted to save [the school],'' Walker said. ''But we have not heard on our side, is the mayor going to give us almost $4 million? Is the mayor going to provide the heating, ventilation, painting and upkeep of that unusable space?''

Duncan thought saving the extra space could prove useful in the future.

''I just felt there was something to be said for maintaining the historical integrity of that neighborhood,'' Duncan said.

King was the site of the first A.A. meeting conducted outside the home of founder Dr. Bob Smith.

Although she voted against replacement, she said the estimated $1 million in masonry work required to renovate the school gave her pause.

''I think the alarming part for me was the cost of the masonry. That was pretty stunning,'' she said.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792, or Staff writer Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this story.



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