The location of a new precision agriculture program changed and the estimated costs increased after the Clark State’s funding request went to state Sen. Chris Widener’s office, according to documents obtained by the Springfield News-Sun.
The community college has requested approval from the Ohio Board of Regents for the new program, which hopes to train workers for the future of agriculture using unmanned aerial vehicle technology. It also submitted a proposal to Widener’s office seeking funding through the community projects portion of the 2015-2016 capital budget.
The state budget bill, House Bill 497, was approved by the legislature this week and signed by Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday evening. Clark State received funding for several projects, including $1 million for the precision agriculture program.
“Clark State is grateful for the hard work and dedication of our governor and legislators in passing a capital bill that reflects the priorities of economic and cultural development in Ohio,” Clark State President Jo Alice Blondin said Wednesday in an email.
The public records obtained by the News-Sun show Widener’s office revised the funding request submitted by Clark State.
The college first proposed that the new program be based on its campus in Shull Hall, which currently houses the agriculture program and the Global Impact STEM Academy, and that capital money be used to renovate that space and upgrade technology. It requested $275,000 in state funding in November.
Then a memo dated March 17 from Blondin says she received an edited version of that request from Widener’s office on March 14. The edited version seeks $2 million in capital funds. The money would go to transforming vacant classroom space at the former South High School, according to the revised funding request.
When asked for an explanation of why the South High location was inserted into the proposal, Widener said in an email: “Clark State requested state funding for a future agriculture program developed with OSU. I recommended it should be done at South High, since the GISA board has already signed an (memorandum of understanding) with Wright State and Clark State and gave the community the impression the STEM school will be located there teaching similar subjects.
“The bottom line is that the Springfield City School Board and the community should be thrilled the Legislature and governor are making a $1 million investment available for the future reuse of South High as place to train our future workforce for jobs,” Widener said.
Jennifer Dietsch, spokeswoman for Clark State, said the budget for the new program evolved over several months. She said the school asked for $275,000 from the Ohio Board of Regents for equipment and then asked Widener to request $2 million from the capital budget.
Clark State’s program proposal includes moving the precision ag program to a “permanent home,” capable of housing large equipment, by the third year of the project. The permanent location isn’t identified in the first proposals.
The highest estimate for the entire project listed on any documents provided by the college was $2.07 million, which included a new laboratory, computers, software, an unmanned aerial vehicle, a tractor and other precision agriculture equipment. The school also provided documentation of some private donations to support the project, including a $75,000 drone donated by Trupointe Cooperative Inc.
The revised capital budget proposal edited by Widener’s office lists the total cost of the project at $3.5 million and requests $2 million from state.
The News-Sun previously reported that Clark State neither owns, nor leases the South High building, and hadn’t discussed a possible lease or use agreement with Springfield City Schools at the time the request was made.
The long-term plan has been to move the Global Impact STEM Academy to the South High building once it is renovated.