Akron schools unveil Firestone/Litchfield design

March 23, 2013


By Doug Livingston, Beacon Journal education writer

(Akron, OH – March 23, 2013) – The Akron school board approved the demolition of Lincoln Elementary and final touches for the Buchtel Community Learning Center on Monday.

The board also got a clearer vision of the Firestone/Litchfield Community Learning Center, a $76 million project, thanks to a presentation by architect Mark Salopek of GPD Group.

The board reviewed blueprints of the 381,000-square-foot, three-story school set to open in October 2015.

“It’s a very large project,” Salopek repeated more than once during the presentation.

The new community learning center would bring Litchfield’s sixth- through eighth-graders, now attending swing space at Perkins Middle School, under the same roof as high school students. The high school students are now attending Firestone High School.

While the combined 2,040 students would be under the same roof, the blueprints call for separation.

The high school and middle schools would have separate entrances, parking lots and administrative offices located on opposite sides of the building. The measure would facilitate safety and convenience, administrators said.

A three-story glass entrance and a jutting glass triangle mark the Firestone entrance.

“It’s kind of like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Salopek said, who added that public input called for a modern look. “They wanted it to be a little more contemporary.”

The Litchfield side showcases a similar two-story glass entrance. A bus lane and student dropoff or pickup area winds along each side of the building, separating the entrances from their respective parking lots.

The dual-entry design aims to alleviate congestion as students and parents visit the school.

“The new traffic pattern has got to be better than what we’re dealing with,” said Board Vice President Lisa Mansfield, who recounted stagnant traffic on Fairfax Avenue on rainy days during dismissal and arrival. “It should make the parents happy as well.”

The schematic, which was approved by the board Monday, will make its way to Columbus for approval by the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The commission oversees such projects as the state is financing 60 cents on the dollar for each construction project in Akron’s $800 million makeover. The remainder is afforded by a voter-approved city income tax increase.

If the design is approved, school officials and contracted architects would hammer out more detailed plans that incorporate specific project costs. Bids would then be sought and construction could begin by the end of the year.

The project boasts a 700-student cafeteria, 21,000-square-foot gymnasium and a three-story “high-end” performing arts center with balconies, Salopek detailed. An existing auxiliary gym and natatorium on the site would be salvaged, but all other elements would be new.

“The schedule is very aggressive,” Salopek said of an October 2015 deadline for completion.

Board member Rev. Curtis Walker is anxious to see this project move along.

“I want to make sure I’m going to still be here,” joked Walker, who did voice the only disapproval over a cinder track as opposed to an artificial turf track.

Paul Flesher, executive director of facility services, said the availability of money for additional improvements like a turf track would not be known until the project was closer to being finished.

The existing track at Firestone High School is expected to close June 1. The football team, band, baseball team and other groups would be temporarily dispersed to other buildings or possibly parks in the city.

The board also approved a $1,063,200 bid to Eclipse Co. of Warrensville Heights to landscape and install a parking lot at Buchtel Community Learning Center and a $390,700 bid awarded to Bob Bennett Construction Company of Norton for the demolition of Lincoln Elementary. Lincoln was among five closures announced three years ago. More closures are expected as enrollment continues to decline but no further details were given.