Kent State Board of Trustees Approves Next Step in Partnership With Berkshire Local Schools
An exciting new educational partnership between Kent State University and Geauga County’s Berkshire Local School District has moved a step closer to reality.
On Sept. 12, the Kent State Board of Trustees approved a long-term ground lease and shared services agreement with Berkshire schools for 30 acres of land located with Kent State’s Geauga Campus, where Berkshire schools will build a new PreK-12 building, including athletic and vocational facilities.
The new school is part of Berkshire’s PRIME initiative, which stands for Partnerships for Rural Innovative Models of Education. Berkshire formed a multipartner collaboration with Kent State, the Auburn Career Center, the Geauga Growth Partnership, and other community and educational entities to develop an innovative approach to teaching and learning in the district. The new PreK-12 building will be the centerpiece of the initiative.
Berkshire schools Superintendent John Stoddard praised Kent State trustees’ actions and says the district was looking forward to solidifying its partnership with the university.
“We are very excited about this – to really solidify those partnerships for the next 99 years,” he says.
The trustees’ vote, he says, cleared the way for the Berkshire Board of Education to vote on the lease. Both approvals are necessary before the district can close on its loan for the building’s construction, Mr. Stoddard explained.
Once both approvals are in place, the school should close on its construction loan by the end of September and move to hire a construction manager, he says. Berkshire already has retained an architectural firm, meaning all components would be in place for a spring 2019 groundbreaking.
“It has been an honor for Kent State University to work with Berkshire Local Schools to form a partnership that promises to transform how the entire community is educated in the future,” says Nathan Ritchey, Ph.D., vice president for Kent State System Integration.
“This strategic partnership truly represents a win-win for the region and shows that when we work together we can create innovative and efficient ways to deliver high-quality public education,” says Mark Polatajko, Kent State’s senior vice president for finance and administration, who negotiated the terms of the 99-year-lease deal.
The new school is expected to open in fall 2021.
Kent State Geauga Dean Angela Spalsbury said committees will form in early 2019 to address the issues of facilities and security so that Kent State Geauga and Berkshire schools can determine how to best work together when the school opens.
“We are thrilled that the trustees have approved the lease with Berkshire schools,” Dean Spalsbury says. “From day one, the Geauga Campus team recognized the incredible opportunity we were given to be part of this collaborative effort.”
The new school will help to create a pipeline that can lead students into college or into careers by showing them educational options that are available including vocational education through Auburn Career Center and/or a college education at Kent State Geauga.
The idea for one central school for the district located on the college campus came about after Berkshire and Ledgemont school districts merged, a move which made the district eligible for state funding to help pay for the construction of new school buildings. Leasing land from Kent State Geauga was a win for the schools because it saved the district the cost of purchasing land for the building. At the same time, having the PreK-12 school on the Geauga Campus will create a natural pipeline to Kent State for students as they graduate from Berkshire schools.
“Our mission has always been to work with our communities in developing and supporting pathways to lifelong learning and to promote the value of earning a degree at Kent State University,” Dean Spalsbury says. “Fifty-four years of graduates contributing to a thriving economy in our region is our testament. This new partnership between higher education and our public school system is integral to that mission. It is all for our community.”
In May 2018, Berkshire district voters overwhelmingly approved a 38-year bond issue that will raise $28 million for the district’s portion of the school’s construction on Kent State’s Geauga Campus in Burton Township, just north of Burton Village.
The new school is expected to cost $41.6 million, 55 percent of which will be paid for by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Berkshire’s 45 percent share will be about $18.7 million, but the schools added another $10 million onto its cost to pay for additions, including a high-tech classroom for vocational training for work on large diesel engines – a high-demand job in Geauga County – an auditorium and an additional gymnasium – spaces that state funding won’t pay for.
In April, Berkshire schools received a $2 million donation from Great Lakes Cheese in Troy Township and its founders, the Epprecht family, to help pay for the construction of athletic facilities at the new school.
In December 2017, Kent State’s Board of Trustees endorsed a resolution supporting the strategic partnership with Berkshire schools.