WARD 4 - After much discussion among its members and with residents, Akron City Council Monday night approved a permit to build a new Buchtel/Perkins Community Learning Center.
Akron Public Schools petitioned the city for a conditional use permit to build the combination high school-middle school on the site of the current Buchtel High School at 1040 Copley Rd.
The approval did not come without heart-felt discussion, however, over the loss of Buchtel's athletic practice field that will result when the new school is completed.
At least four members of Council have direct ties to the issue. Council President and Ward 3 Councilman Marco Sommerville, Ward 4 Councilman Russel C. Neal Jr. and At-Large Councilman Michael Williams attended Buchtel. At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien served on the Akron School Board when the Buchtel/Perkins project was first conceived.
Omobien and Sommerville, who also chairs the Joint Board of Review, said losing the practice field could pose an inconvenience to student athletes who will have to be transported to another site for practice, but in the long run the community gets a brand new, state-of-the-art building and the school is saved.
"We want to educate boys and girls in 21st century buildings and this is a very nice facility," Omobien said. "Because the community asked to keep the existing gymnasium, the building will have three gymnasiums, as well as updated science classes, labs, wireless access and air conditioning. We are sorry we cannot address everyone's concerns."
APS expects to break ground on the 223,000-square-foot school in late spring or early summer. The $44.7 million facility will house 640 9th- through 12th-graders, 350 7th- and 8th- graders, and 160 career technical educational students.
The new school will sit on 20 acres of land, but the front high school entrance will be pushed back from the original Copley Road entrance. Perkins Middle School students will enter at the west wing of the new building from Glendora Avenue.
Because the building will be pushed further north, the school will lose the practice field. Neal echoed pleas heard during Monday's public hearing on the ordinance from Buchtel's wrestling coach and a former school board member to save the practice field.
"I am not opposed to getting a new school, but it seems we have to give up something to get something," Neal said. "Our ward has gained Schumacher but we lost a street; we're gaining Buchtel but we are losing a practice field.
"Children will have to be transported all over Akron just to practice."
Sommerville is not pleased with the Copley Road front entrance being pushed so far back from its original position, but overall, he said the students win.
"Community is very important and one of the things that makes a community is a school. That's why it's important to save Buchtel High School," said Sommerville, some of whose constituents in Ward 3 also attend Buchtel and Perkins. "I'm confident Akron Public Schools will come up with a plan to address those issues Mr. Neal brought up.
"There are some inconveniences, and some things we really can't address as Council, but in the long run it has to be about saving schools."