Fairport Harbor School District keeps busy with preparations to build new school

Jan. 14—EDITOR'S NOTE — This is one in a series looking at what Lake County communities, school districts and public-service agencies experienced in 2022 and what is facing them in 2023.

Fairport Harbor School District took some important steps last year in its journey toward the start of constructing a new school for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

The district not only secured a large chunk of state funding for the construction project, but also chose two partners that will play pivotal roles in designing and building the school.

These achievements were among the 2022 highlights cited by Fairport Harbor Schools Superintendent Domenic Paolo. He also pinpointed the district's highest priorities for 2023.

Some of the district's major accomplishments in 2022 included:

—Making noteworthy progress in preparing to construct a new school.

Fairport Harbor Schools entered 2022 only two months after district voters approved a 3.9-mill, $5 million bond issue for the school construction project.

Passage of the bond issue was needed to obtain a much larger share of money from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to round out the funding required to build the school.

The school will be constructed on the current property of Harding Middle and High School on 329 Vine St. Plans call for the new school to be situated on green space that is adjacent to Harding — along New Fourth Street, near the intersection of Vine — rather than within the footprint of the current building.

After the bond issue passed, the question then became when Fairport Harbor Schools would receive the state funding and exactly how much would be allocated.

That question was answered July 7. On that date, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission approved the release of $46.9 million to serve as the state's contribution toward building the new school in Fairport Harbor.

With the state's allocation, a total of $50.4 million is available to construct the school.

While Fairport Harbor voters approved a $5 million bond issue in November, the local share for state funding awarded by the OFCC on July 7 was listed at about $3.5 million. Other revenue raised by the bond issue was earmarked to help construct a new public library as part of the new school for students, Paolo said.

"The state was only going to fund 3,500 to 4,000 square feet of library, and we knew that wouldn't be enough," he said. "So we had to tack on an extra 2,000 square feet."

Paolo said the additional 2,000 square feet of library area that's above and beyond what OFCC was willing to pay for is considered a locally funded initiative within the school construction project.

Also in 2022, Fairport Harbor School Board made two other key decisions to keep the school construction project on track.

In April, the board selected ThenDesign Architecture of Willoughby to design the new school. Then, during a December meeting, the board approved a formal agreement which appointed C.T. Taylor Construction of Hudson to manage the school construction project.

It's anticipated that the new school will be built by the start of the 2025-26 academic year.

—Class of 2022 keeps a tradition going.

Paolo said 2022 marked the third straight year that all members of the graduating class of Fairport Harding High School graduated with either a career credential or college credits.

That distinction was achieved for the first time in Fairport Harding High School history by the Class of 2020.

"The thing I'm still most proud of is we did that again in 2022," Paolo said. "Every kid received a diploma, but also had college credits or a career credential."

Ensuring that every student graduates from Harding High School with either college credits or a career credential fulfills a goal that was established in a district plan called Profile of a Graduate: Vision 20/20.

—District voters approve substitute levy.

A Fairport Harbor School District substitute levy secured approval on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Voters passed the 9.95-mill levy by a margin of 796-372, according to official, final results from the Lake County Elections Board.

The continuous levy will generate $687,166 per year, according to the Lake County Auditor's Office.

"That gives us financial stability for the foreseeable future," Paolo said, noting that the levy stays in effect permanently, rather than requiring periodic renewals.

Levy funding will be used for school district operational costs, such as staff, materials and programming.

The substitute levy was placed on the Nov. 8 ballot after the school board proposed combining two emergency levies, which totaled 11.45 mills, into a single, continuous 9.95-mill levy.

The two emergency levies that the board blended into the substitute levy each were designated to be renewed every 10 years.

Looking ahead into 2023:

—Paolo said he's optimistic that all members of this year's graduating class at the high school will finish up with either college credits or career credentials, and follow in the footsteps of the Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

"I'm very proud we've been able to sustain that, and hopefully always will," he said.

—As for the new school, Paolo said he hopes that C.T. Taylor Construction will break ground and begin construction this summer.

—One other key goal for the district in 2023 involves finding a successor to Paolo. Late last year, he announced that he will retire as superintendent, effective July 1.

Paolo will be wrapping up a 36-year career in education, which includes serving the past 17 years as leader of the Fairport Harbor School District.

"I want to hand the baton off to a superintendent who will love the district as much as I have," he said.