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The Akron School District is in the final design phase of a $20.9 million capital-improvement project, according to Superintendent Ronald G. DeCarli.

Major features of the project include adding new classrooms that will address concerns about increased enrollment and expanding services and programs to provide a safer, more efficient and productive learning environment.

In addition to a handicapped-accessible pool, a state-of-the-art media center and an upgraded computer system, the project also includes a middle school addition.

"A middle school concept is very important," DeCarli said. "This is the critical development age for building self-esteem and confidence."

The School Board, which is currently studying a middle school concept, has a new monthly meeting structure and workshop format that trustee Marybeth Whiting said allows the board to "function as a team and share information as it is gathered."

"Working on the middle school concept is really a key issue because we never had it here before," she said.

Last week, the District Level Team, a group of parents, staff, administrators, business representatives and district residents, met with Professor Bill O'Connell from St. Bonaventure University, who will assist in the development of a middle school concept.

O'Connell, an administrator for 26 years in the Pioneer School District, said he became interested in the middle school concept many years ago.

"We had a very large junior and senior high school back in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- somewhere in the area of 1,600 students in one building," he said. "I think we learned from our day-to-day experiences of watching what was going on, and I worked very hard to make the middle school concept a reality."

The youngsters, he said, "needed an environment that was more adopted to their characteristics and needs."

The final design plans for the capital-improvement project will be submitted this fall to the state Education Department for its review, DeCarli said.

"We hopefully will have approval soon so we can begin the bidding process," he said.

Construction is expected to begin at the conclusion of this school year, the superintendent said.

The project, he added, is "tentatively scheduled to be completed in the 2003-04 school year."

DeCarli oted that the district ust completed a $2.5 million capital project that focused "entirely on one infrastructure."

The project included electrical improvements, such as new and replacement lighting, heating and ventilating system improvements, classroom flooring, new windows, a new security system and a variety of other work.

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