57-year-old school will transform to serve Warren County special needs students

Mason schools’ oldest building is being reborn as a county-wide campus for special needs students.

School officials this week signed a decade-long, $2.5 million deal to lease the former Western Row Elementary building to the Warren County Educational Services Center (WCESC).

The WCESC, which serves all Warren County school systems, will start using the school’s classrooms for special needs and at-risk student programs starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

Tom Isaacs, WCESC superintendent, said in a statement after the deal was closed “we are very grateful for this partnership with Mason City Schools to continue educating students who are residents of Mason and also from surrounding school districts.”

“We will maintain classrooms that exist in all Warren County school districts, but the Western Row facility will provide many more opportunities to meet the unique learning challenges faced by severely handicapped children,” said Isaacs.

Western Row was opened in 1962 and was used by Mason Schools until the end of the just-completed school year.

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The leasing deal allows the WCESC an option to purchase the building and campus – at 755 Western Row Road – for an additional $4 million.

Under Ohio law, Mason Schools are not allowed to use the $2.5 million in leasing revenue for operational costs of the 10,000-student district, but school officials said the money will instead go to maintaining infrastructures at other district buildings, including HVAC systems, roofing, parking lots and renovation of some classrooms.

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Mason Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper said “we’re glad that the building will continue to be used as an educational home to children, and that this agreement allows us to remain good stewards of taxpayers’ resources and good neighbors to the residents and businesses located near Western Row.”

In 2014, Mason officials sold another former school, Mason Heights Elementary, to Royalmont Academy, a private Catholic school, which began leasing the school in 2012 and later purchased it for $1 million.

Mason has the largest enrollment of any Warren County school system.

Officials said closing Western Row saves approximately $500,000 in operating costs annually, and $14 million in capital investments that would have be needed to bring Western Row up to Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) standards if the school had remained operational.

The school’s closure, they said, is part of the district’s master facilities plan that shrinks the district’s footprint and places over 10,000 students in five schools located in four buildings in the district.

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