By AMY GAREIS                                                                                                                                   News-Herald Staff Writer

HOPEDALE – More than $750,000 is being spent to spruce up two area schools, but only a portion of it is derived from Permanent Improvement Levy funds.

Dana Snider, administrative assistant for Harrison Hills City Schools, said Harrison Central High and Harrison Hopedale Elementary schools were getting refurbished to handle the extra students when school resumes Aug. 26. Hundreds more pupils will be utilizing the facilities with the closure of three elementary sites and the formation of a junior-senior high school, and Snider said the makeovers will enhance the buildings.

About $139,000 in permanent improvement funds is being used for projects, but a majority is covered through bonds and grants. Snider said $560,000 in 0-percent interest bonds defrayed energy-efficient enhancements while another $17,000 in grants added some high-tech learning tools.

Updates at Harrison Central include a $23,000 sidewalk project recently completed by Pappy’s Construction of Freeport, $260,000 wheelchair lift installation for two units to give physically disabled students more access, a $267,000 lighting and steam trap plan and a pending parking lot redo.

Two wheelchair lifts will be added to the front and back of the school and costs will be defrayed through federal stimulus funds since they improve handicapped accessibility.

“We are also bringing the multi-handicapped students to the school so they are with children of their own age group.” The school board previously entered into a performance contract with Youngstown-based Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) to enhance the sites in a plan that would conserve energy and help the updates pay for themselves. Snider said the work is being completed through 0-percent interest bonds under Ohio House Bill 264, which aims to reduce utility costs by adding LED lighting, new roofing or updated heating and cooling systems. Under H.B. 264, the Energy Conservation Program allows school districts to make efficiency improvements to the buildings and the cost savings would pay for the work.

“With the House Bill, it has to guarantee savings for 15 years,” she said. At the high school, we would save about $43,000 per year in energy costs,” Snider explained.

Meanwhile, six bids were received for blacktopping a large area around the school and a smaller section near the weight room.

Hopedale Elementary will also receive lighting improvements at a price tag of $143,000 that also falls under the H.B. 264 umbrella. Once those are finished, the school could save about $10,000 on its utility bill and the district could repay the bonds with those total savings of $53,000 annually.

Other touchups include the back porch and sidewalks, restrooms, painting the gym, new ceilings, 30 computers and an interactive high-tech table for the preschool.

“I wrote a grant and True Value Hardware awarded us $1,200 worth of paint to redo the gym,” she said, adding that $17,000 in preschool grants purchased the computer equipment. The ceiling project has gone out to bid with an opening expected in two weeks, but the work could cost around $100,000 for asbestos removal and ceiling replacement.

Snider continued that a group of teachers are also looking to help landscape the front lawn to make it more inviting to students. She said half-day preschool classes will be offered to pupils age 3 and up, but they must turn 3 by Sept. 30 to qualify. The district will send letters to parents and will work to accommodate their schedules. For more information, contact the district at 740-942-7800.

Snider said the levy funds have been instrumental in providing facilities for learning. Voters approved the 3-mill levy in November to keep the aging sites functional. The millage equals $430,000 annually and has been used to upgrade school buildings, the football stadium and grounds throughout the district.

“It’s a levy where people value what they have,” she said.

NH Photos/AMY GAREIS