Akron city employees and their families may soon be going to college for free through a land deal with Stark State College.

In a proposal requiring a final vote from Akron City Council on Monday, the two-year college would lease six city acres in a joint economic development district straddling Akron and Springfield Township. The Massillon Road Industrial Park property on Picton Parkway would house Stark State’s commercial driver's license program, which is temporarily staged in a parking lot at the college’s main campus in North Canton.

Akron administrators value the six-year lease agreement at $25,000 annually. Instead of accepting cash, though, Mayor Dan Horrigan and his economic development team have agreed to take 225 credits a year for any Stark State course. That's an annual value of $34,000, the city and college said. The city’s human resources department is developing a system to disburse the credits to employees, including council members, and any family member seeking tuition-free entry into the high-demand trucking industry.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the deal would also let city employees and their families fill open seats in any course on the schedule at the Stark State Akron campus. Applicable students would pay for only fees and books.

“I want to clarify that: Any class, not just CDL,” Chief of Staff James Hardy told council members during Monday's committee meetings. He said the deal was Akron's first-ever trade of land for tuition.

Planning Committee Chair Jeff Fusco called the deal a “brilliant effort” and an “outstanding” opportunity for employees to grow professionally.

The Akron campus opened last fall. It'll serve up to 3,000 students per semester when current classroom construction finishes this year. The campus enrolled 1,700 students in the spring, said Stark State Executive Director Donald Mullen.

The “open seat” policy for Akron city workers would run through 2034. The 225 credits would apply to the first six years of the deal. The city could pay up to $25,000 a year, starting in year seven, to keep the 225 credits flowing to employees and their beneficiaries. “Hopefully this is a program that outlives us all,” Hardy said.

Stark State President Para Jones had hoped to have the CDL program up and running in Akron early this year. She struck a deal with the city in November to lease 8.4 acres at the former Akron Fulton International Airport. With plans to build a track and modular classroom facility, the city and college teamed up to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration to use the old airport property as a truck-driving school.

Hardy said the FAA, which could not be reached for comment, could not be convinced that a CDL program would directly benefit the airport, beyond the annual lease payments. Thomas Chiappini, vice president of business and finance for Stark State, said the college was eager to get the program running. The college also cited the slow-moving FAA application process and several safety restrictions such as which way lights at the proposed CDL school should face and how high structures can be built near runways.

With a goal of enrolling 100 students by next August, the new CDL location should be ready by Sept. 8, Chiappini said.

In other business, council was briefed on a $100 million sewer project and tentative labor agreements with two city unions.

Though Deputy Mayor for Labor Relations Randy Briggs was present, city administrators said they would respectfully delay discussion of new three-year, collective bargaining agreements until representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 could attend.

The old contracts with the police union and another with Ohio Council 8 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees expired in December. The new deals include annual raises of 2% (retroactive to Dec. 30, 2018) then 2.75% in 2020 and 3% in 2021.

Details shared with council include an increase in employee health care premiums, copays and maximum out-of-pocket expenses for members and their families, especially employees on single plans who will see annual out-of-pocket maximums nearly double from $775 to $1,500.

The raises and higher health care costs would be adopted by nonunion city employees if council accepts the legislation drafted by the mayor’s staff.

Council is also poised next Monday to authorize the city’s public service director, John Moore, to seek a $98,276,810 low-interest state loan to knock down and rebuild a system filtering sewage headed for the Water Reclamation Facility.

The Headworks, as its called, still uses 1928 technology to screen grit from water that flows downhill through the Main Outfall Sewer, which runs north through the Merriman Valley. Demolition and reconstruction of an outfall bridge across the Cuyahoga River and the Headworks facility is expected to run from October 2019 to May 2022.

Engineers are still trying to figure the best way to re-route the sewage during construction. “Bypassing that [main outfall] is going to be a challenge,” Moore said.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.