Dayton dropout recovery high school gets OK to build new school on Wayne Avenue

Some neighborhood leaders opposed Liberty High School’s move, saying the Wayne-Wyoming site should be used for commercial development

Some community members are thrilled that a “dropout recovery” charter high school is supposed to relocate to Dayton’s South Park neighborhood.

Liberty High School is a good fit for a vacant site at Wayne Avenue and Wyoming Street, according to supporters and Dayton planning staff, who say the new school will be able to serve more community members who are risk of not finishing their education and who would benefit from valuable vocational training.

“The Department of Labor suggests that over the span of a dropout’s life, they will cost their community $300,000,” said Jerry Farley, vice president of career technical education with Oakmont Education, which runs the Liberty school. “Given the 350 approximate youth that are currently at Liberty High School, we’re talking about a return of investment into this community of over $100 million — far more than any other retail place could bring into this community.”

But some local residents and neighborhood leaders say while they support the project, the project site is not the right location for a school.

“Our concern is that this is not harmonious with the neighborhood,” said Mike Schommer, president of the Walnut Hills Neighborhood Association. “This is incompatible with what’s taking place in that area.”

A nontraditional school

Liberty High School plans to relocate from a windowless warehouse at 140 N. Keowee St. in an industrial part of the city to a new facility that it plans to construct on vacant land by the northeast corner of Wayne Avenue and Wyoming Street.

Liberty High School is a dropout and credit recovery school that opened in 2018 and accepts students who are 15 to 21 years old.

Oakmont Education, which operates the school, proposes to build a two-story, 22,000-square-foot facility where students can get a high school diploma and receive vocational training and certificates.

The Wayne Avenue and Wyoming Street property is along South Park’s main commercial corridor, which includes businesses like Wendy’s, Sunoco, Kroger and Walgreens.

The city has tried to find a developer for the site since the 2000s but nothing has panned out, said Keith Klein, senior economic development specialist with the city of Dayton.

“In my opinion, the school is clearly the best use,” he said. “The market has spoken, we’ve had it out there for a decade, there’s no restaurant coming to this site, there’s no apartment building coming to this site.”

City staff believe the school use is harmonious with the surrounding properties and the project will increase the capacity of a valuable service in the community, said Elizabeth Dakin, a city of Dayton planner.

Oakmont Education worked with city staff, concerned community members and the Dayton Landmark Commission to modify the proposed Liberty school building and site design to significantly improve the project and make it compatible with the historic district, Dakin said.

The city owns the site, but Oakmont Education has a purchase option. Many years ago, Kroger was considering putting a new, larger store on the property, but those plans fell apart.


Liberty High School has served more than 1,500 Dayton students and it currently has 350 students enrolled, said Paulette Hare, executive director of operations for Oakmont Education.

Liberty currently has a waiting list of young people who want to enroll in the school. About 90% of Liberty’s students live within about three miles of the school.

The new building is 30% larger than Liberty’s existing facility and it will be constructed specifically for educational and vocational uses, Hare said.

The school is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

Liberty High School helps meet the community’s workforce needs by helping youth who would otherwise drop out of high school earn diplomas and employment certificates and develop useful skills, said Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of East End Community Services, which is on Xenia Avenue, in the Twin Towers neighborhood, located just northeast of the site.

Leslie Sheward, president of the Twin Towers Neighborhood Association, said a lack of development at the proposed school site has had a harmful impact on the economic redevelopment of the area.

“For 23 years, Twin Towers has waited for a project such as this,” she said.

Opposition to the location

Some neighbors and the presidents of the Walnut Hills Neighborhood Association and Historic South Park Inc. said the site has great redevelopment potential.

Also, Wayne Avenue is a busy corridor and the Wyoming Street intersection has serious traffic safety problems, so putting students at that property is a bad idea, said James Wahl, who lives nearby in South Park. He said the school is a good project, but it is not compatible with that part of the neighborhood.

Schommer of the Walnut Hills Neighborhood Association also called it a good project, but said the land in question is a shovel-ready site that should be redeveloped for commercial uses.

About 30,000 vehicles travel through the Wyoming and Wayne Avenue intersection every day, and schools are far more appropriate inside neighborhoods, off main roadways, Schommer said.

He said this project is not in line with the city’s strategic vision for southeast Dayton.

“This site really needs a larger development, not this smaller-scale development,” he said.

Mark Manovich, president of Historic South Park Inc., said this is a good project but a bad location.

“No one in the neighborhood is against this school,” he said. “If you guys wanted to put it down in Burns Jackson (park) we’d be totally in favor of it. But this is a commercial district and this school is not commercial.”

Manovich said investors are buying up properties all across the neighborhood and along Wayne Avenue, and this site definitely can attract commercial activity, which he said is what the neighborhood wants and needs.

Board decisions

After more than two hours of discussion, the Dayton Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) last week approved variances that will allow the project to move forward.

Two nights later, the Landmark Commission approved a certificate of appropriateness for the new high school building, with some design changes.

Mackenzie Johns, a former Liberty student who now works at the school in a construction program, said the school taught her important life skills.

She said many students would benefit from learning a trade that will help them get a job right out of high school.

Erica Owens, a Dayton resident and a student at Liberty High School, said the new facility is going to be a big improvement over the existing building. She said it will provide much better learning and training spaces.

“We are in a warehouse,” she said. “We ain’t got no windows.”

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