By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
A last-minute petition drive that collected 370 signatures in favor of renovating rather than replacing King elementary school wasn't enough to save the 1923 building from demolition.
The Akron Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday to replace King. Board member Lisa Mansfield was not present.
The board affirmed the recommendation of the group of city and school officials overseeing Akron's nearly $800 million school construction project, although that vote, taken June 28, was not unanimous.
The five members representing the district voted for replacement, joined by Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville and Ward 7 Councilwoman Tina Merlitti. But the other three city representatives, all appointed members of Mayor Don Plusquellic's Cabinet, sided with the mayor in favor of saving King.
Renovating and expanding the building would have cost $3 million more than building new, according to an analysis by TC Architects of Akron a cost that Akron would have had to bear without state assistance.
Board member James Hardy, who attended King for six years, said he will be sorry to see the building go, but he voted in favor of building new.
''What makes King truly unique in my view isn't the terra cotta, or that beautiful stained-glass window, or even the kickball field where I played many a game; it's the people who have given it life and the people who have given it life for generations,'' Hardy said.
The state is paying for 59 percent of the basic cost of the projects. A voter-approved city income tax hike pays the remainder through the sale of bonds, 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 Ohio School Facilities Commission oversees the project for the state.
In January, the district moved Hatton, King and Seiberling elementary schools up the list, using money already in the budget from Akron's initial bond sale for the first half of the program.
Like King, Hatton and Seiberling will be replaced with new schools.
''This money is not infinite,'' Hardy said. ''More and more, it's becoming clear that the OSFC will probably not have funds required to make all of its commitments. The city is having a difficulty selling bonds, so our local matching funds are not always readily available sometimes. We have money now, which is why we made it a point to do King, to move it up in the process and make sure it was included.''
Three speakers armed with petitions argued in favor of saving King treasured for its beauty and historical significance as the site of the first A.A. meeting conducted outside the home of founder Dr. Bob Smith.
''I felt all through the process as though not enough creativity and imagination was given to the task of seeing if there was a way to do everything we needed to do for the children and still save the building,'' said Marguerite Tremelin, who attended King, as did her mother and her children. She also served on the PTA.
''Now that we have lost Findley, Portage Path and other schools, for Akron, this is a chance, and perhaps the only chance, to preserve a building from that era. And we should preserve a building from that era.''
John Glenn, longtime West Akron resident and former legal counsel to Akron Public Schools, asked the board for support in approaching local charitable foundations to make up the extra cost of renovations.
Sarah Vradenburg, vice president of Progress Through Preservation, reminded the board that her grass-roots organization commissioned a 2006 study that showed renovation would be a cheaper alternative to replacement.
''We ask the board to take a little more time and get an independent review,'' said the retired Beacon Journal newswoman. ''Once historic buildings come down, they are lost forever.''
The study by the Akron firm of Chambers, Murphy & Burge determined that a renovation would cost $9.6 million about 8 percent less than the $10.4 million cost of a new King.
The analysis the board heard about on Monday showed a nearly $15 million cost for replacement. Renovation would have cost $3 million more than that, with a third of the extra cost consumed by waterproofing the basement walls and repairing the masonry.
David James said the 2006 study was considering a school with a smaller enrollment and less classroom space. King is now projected to have about 500 students.
''It wasn't big enough,'' James said.