CANTON — To pay for its share of a new football operations center, the Canton City School District plans to forgo at least $125,000 in revenue a year through 2027.

Leaders say the investment will enable the district to capitalize on a billion-dollar project and a strong relationship with Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village while providing a state-of-the-art, $5.2 million athletic facility for students.

The board of education last month approved the paperwork that allows a football operations center to be built and given to the district by the Village as a replacement for space lost when Fawcett Stadium was demolished.

As part of the deal, the school system will kick in $1 million toward the construction of the promised facility, mostly to cover the cost of a new, 4,000-square-foot weight room. The rest of the project will be paid for by the Village.

The district's contribution — which will be spread across 8½ years — comes after a season of tough financial choices that included reductions in both teaching and administrative positions.

Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Graham, during an interview with The Canton Repository, acknowledged one of the big questions about the money is whether the district sacrificed staff to build a building.

"To some degree we could have spent that money differently," he said. "However, we made commitments a long time ago to this building, to the process, that we need to honor."

Paying for facility

Instead of handing over $1 million all at once, the district will cover its share of the project by giving the Village a break on rent throughout the 8½-year period.

Back in 2015, when the Village project began, developers agreed to pay the school district rent each year to make up for what the district anticipated losing by no longer operating its own stadium — an estimated net loss of $268,800 annually from things such as advertising and concessions, according to documents from 2015.

The Village started making rent payments to the district last year. But during negotiations about the football operations facility, the rent payments were re-structured to cover the district's cost of the football operations facility.

The new agreement, obtained by the Repository through a public records request, sets up the following rent arrangement:

• From April 1, 2019, through Oct. 1, 2020, the Village doesn't pay the district any rent, which is an abatement of $54,660 each quarter.

• From Jan. 1, 2021, through Oct. 1, 2027, the Village's rent payment will be reduced by $31,331 each quarter to $23,328.

So from 2021 through 2027, the district will collect $93,314 a year in rent, and $125,326 will go toward the football facility annually.

The total adds up to more than $1 million because interest is built in, business manager Tad Ellsworth said.

The rent reductions will mean a loss for the district's overall budget, not specifically the athletics budget. The money from the Village was going into the district's general fund, and the athletic budget has been subsidized by the general fund for at least a decade, meaning athletics at Canton City Schools — like most districts — is no longer self-sustaining.

The rent reductions also won't be an unanticipated hit to an already-stressed budget: Because the project has been in the works for so long, the reductions were factored into the district's most-recent five-year forecast.

The document estimated during the 2019 fiscal year — which ended June 30 — the district's expenses would be $5 million higher than revenues, forcing the district to pull from its savings to pay bills.

In anticipation, the district eliminated 26 teaching positions and 10 administrative jobs.

Projections for the current fiscal year show expenses outpacing revenues by $1.3 million, according to the most recent financial forecast.

Project timetable

Site work for the football operations facility began days after the board of education signed off on the project. The realignment and reconstruction of the McKinley High School driveway is scheduled to finish by Aug. 11.

The build is scheduled to last 12 months, but Ellsworth said he thinks it could be finished by June 1 if everything "goes really, really well."

When finished, the one-story, 24,642-square-foot building will have a weight room, freshmen and varsity football locker rooms, men's and women's sports and coaches' locker rooms, coaches' offices, a high-density storage room and system, a kitchenette and a laundry room.

Until the football center is constructed, students will continue to use the renovated Smith Annex.

But that's "one of the dominoes that needs to go" for the Village project to keep moving, Graham said, adding the district needs to uphold its end of the deal.

Development plans for the Village show more youth multipurpose fields where the annex sits. The annex can't be torn down until the new facility is complete.

In a news release from the Village announcing the project, Village CEO Mike Crawford said the new facility will be one that "enriches the lives of student-athletes in our community."

"As we continue to work toward making Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village a reality, this is an example of how our goals remain focused on impacting the community in a positive way."