By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron's Riedinger Middle School which has been empty since it was closed in 2009 because of falling enrollment will have students once again after the district spends$2.5 million on a new roof and other repairs.
The school board and city officials approved spending the money on Monday so that two alternative programs now housed at the former Central- Hower High School can be relocated to Riedinger on West Thornton Street.
That would enable the district to turn Central-Hower into a high school specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a STEM middle school, graduates its first class of eighth-graders in the spring of 2012.
The district wants them to make a seamless transition to a STEM-oriented high school in the fall of 2012.
Central-Hower is a likely candidate for that high school because it already has labs and is located near the University of Akron, one of the main partners behind the National Inventors Hall of Fame School.
Central-Hower closed in 2006, but served as a temporary home for students at East High School while they waited for their own building to be renovated. East reopened in September.
Central-Hower now is home to two alternative programs, one for middle school students and one for high school students.
The Akron Opportunity Center gives middle school students with behavior problems who are struggling academically in regular middle schools smaller class sizes and more counseling.
''At the end of the year, they may transition back to their middle school if they're doing well and they seem to be meeting their academic and behavioral goals that they establish for the students,'' said assistant superintendent Ellen McWilliams.
Or if their teachers and families agree, they may complete their middle school years
at the Akron Opportunity Center, which has 92 students this year.
The Akron Alternative Academy, which enrolls 300 students, is a high school program for students who may have dropped out of a traditional high school or need more flexibility getting their diplomas because they're pregnant or already have children.
''They get their regular high school diploma, but their diploma actually says their home high school,'' said McWilliams, who attended a graduation ceremony at Central-Hower a few weeks ago for 170 graduates. ''If they came from Garfield, their diploma says Garfield High School.''
Putting both programs under one roof at Riedinger will give the district an opportunity to find ways for them to collaborate, McWilliams said.
But first they'll need a new roof, which will cost $630,000, plus another $26,000 to replace broken or leaking skylights with plastic or fiberglass.
The building also needs $981,000 in repairs to heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment. Interior repairs are needed for ceilings, partitions, light fixtures and other equipment.
The money will come from local funds that were budgeted, but not spent, for previous school construction projects in the nearly $800 million program to rebuild or renovate schools.
The state is paying for 59 percent of the basic cost, with a voter-approved city income tax increase covering the rest. The schools double as community centers for public use after hours.
Because the Riedinger renovation money comes entirely from the local tax dollars for the project, Riedinger will become a ''community learning center'' for public use after hours.
Riedinger should be ready for students by the middle of the next school year, according to the district.