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Special-Needs Program to Rent City School Building for $1 a Year

Simone Sebastian – The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, OH — Columbus schools will rent a vacant school building to an outside program for special-needs children for a rock-bottom price — $1 a year.

During its meeting tonight, the Columbus school board unanimously approved the deal to lease Kent Elementary, which was closed in 2005, to LifeTown, a program run by the Schottenstein Chabad House at Ohio State University.

District officials said LifeTown will pay for utilities and daily maintenance of the building, an estimated $60,000 annual savings to the school district.

“We feel it benefits the district because it puts an occupant in the building so we don’t have a vacant building,” said Anne Dorrian-Lenzotti, the district’s director of real estate and shared facilities. “And the services, they benefit our district students.”

LifeTown, which will take over the facility Wednesday and expects to start the program in September, is a simulated village that teaches students life skills such as opening a bank account, going grocery shopping and interviewing for a job, said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, director of the Chabad House and LifeTown organizer.

The program puts students in real-life scenarios during a two-hour field trip. Kaltmann said he plans to attract between 700 and 1,000 students next year, mostly from Columbus schools.

During the first year, the program will be free, he said. Some details of the program, including sources of funding, have not been determined, he said.

LifeTown is a project of the Friendship Circle, a national nonprofit organization.

The first LifeTown opened in suburban Detroit three years ago. It serves about 3,300 students a year and charges schools up to $200 per visit, said Bassie Shemtov, director of the Michigan program.

Kent, 1414 Gault St., east of Downtown, served as “swing space” for Ohio Avenue until last winter, when students and staff moved back into their renovated building.

The one-year agreement leases 18,600 square feet of the 33,000-square-foot school to LifeTown. Dorrian-Lenzotti said the district can use the remaining space in the building, though LifeTown is responsible for the full utility costs.

This is the fourth lease the district has signed with outside schools and programs since March. In a divided vote that month, the board agreed to rent Brentnell and Linden Park I.G.E. Alternative elementaries to charter schools.

In May, the district agreed to lease Medary Elementary to Helping Hands Center, an education and therapy center for children with developmental disabilities.

In those agreements, the district received $1.50 or $1.75 per square foot, bringing in $55,000 to $63,000 annually for each school.

Dorrian-Lenzotti said LifeTown got a better deal because the program serves district students; the other organizations are independent schools.

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