The Columbus City public schools bought the recently vacated ECOT offices and is trying to figure out how to utilize the lavish space.

https://www.dispatch.com/news/20181105/former-ecot-headquarters-become-fancy-digs-for-city-schools

ECOT (the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) went bankrupt earlier this year. It was a for-profit virtual charter school with the lowest graduation rate in the nation. Its founder, Bill Lager, gave generous donations to Ohio elected officials, which protected him from accountability for years. By some estimates,about $500 million of the $1 billion he collected over the years was wasted. This money was diverted from the state’s public schools.

Now the Columbus City public schools has purchased the ECOT quarters.

Purchase of sprawling former ECOT headquarters gives Columbus City Schools some fancy amenities including an executive office with a fur tapestry wall, stainless steel barn door entrance, and large private bathroom with stone wall.

It’s not the intricate tile work, the wood floors, the fur wallpaper, the “barn doors” that roll open to executive offices, the hand-pounded steel sink and stone counters, the carved wood wall, the futuristic lobby or even the full-size movie theater.

The thing that really stands out from a tour of the now-dark, dirty and vacant former ECOT headquarters on the South Side is its size — 138,457 square feet of labyrinth.

The building is a shuttered testament to a billion-dollar state educational experiment gone awry — all paid for with tax dollars diverted from hundreds of school districts across the state. Its sleek, modern furniture, computer servers, file cabinets and large portraits of GOP politicians are now gone. But the former Southland Mall building at 3700 S. High St. is slowly coming back to life as part of Columbus City Schools, which scooped it up at a liquidation auction over the summer for $3.47 million including fees.

Last week, the Columbus Board of Education held its first meeting in the very room where the ECOT board, handpicked by founder Bill Lager, held its final, desperate meetings in a bid to stay alive, ordering a tax-funded ad campaign attacking the state Department of Education and a multimillion-dollar legal battle that ended futilely before the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We just wanted to hold the meeting in a different location,” Columbus board President Gary Baker said when asked why the board met there Tuesday. “It gives us an opportunity to be fresher in our thinking because we’re somewhere different.”

The board received a recommendation last month to vacate and sell several of its existing support buildings, including a bus compound, warehouse and offices. The board could profit from moving into the ECOT building: two of those support buildings were appraised at a combined $6.2 million.

A consultant is working to determine how those departments could be relocated to the ECOT building, which has hundreds of empty offices, big and small. It’s all on a sprawling 26.7 acres of commercial land that includes 700 parking spots, the concrete foundation of a former Gold Circle department store, and several acres of woods.

How will Columbus City Schools, which lost more tax money to ECOT than any other district in the state did, use it all?

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” said Alex Trevino, the district’s director of capital improvements. “We’re trying to look at everything with kind of an open mind, clear slate.”

The district might sell off some of the land to commercial developers, Trevino said. Although the area isn’t booming, a Walmart, Kroger and Lowe’s anchor the strip shopping center across busy High Street, just north of Interstate 270, helping to support many restaurants and smaller stores. Although the building is near the southern edge of Ohio’s largest school district, “you’ve got fantastic accessibility” to Interstates 71 and 270 and Routes 23 and 104, Trevino said.

One thing is certain: Some district official will get a really nice executive office that used to belong to a high-ranking ECOT official; the district isn’t certain who that will be. The office has a fur tapestry wall, a wood floor, a stainless-steel barn door entrance and a large private bathroom with a stone wall.