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AUSTINTOWN TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS Time for a decision



Published: Mon, July 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- A bond issue that will pave the way for two major construction projects and the realignment of the school district most likely will appear on the ballot here this November.

Superintendent Richard Denamen said the possibility is "very strong" that the bond issue will be before voters. Money generated by the bond issue would pay for renovations to Frank Ohl Middle School and the construction of a new junior high. Denamen estimated that the two projects would cost a total of $34 million to $38 million.

The new junior high would be east of the Fitch High School football stadium, near Raccoon Road.

About new school: Denamen said the new school would help to replace Austintown Middle School, which was built in 1916 and is in need of repair. He noted that the school does not have the capacity to handle modern technology, and a damaged wooden floor in the school gym recently had to be replaced with a temporary floor.

Austintown Middle School could be sold if the new junior high is built, Denamen said.

Susan Roberts, the council co-president of the Austintown PTA, said the PTA doesn't have an official position on the bond issue. She agreed with Denamen, however, that Austintown Middle School is in need of repair.

"I think Austintown Middle School is the one that stands out as needing the most work," she said.

Possible realignment: The approval of the bond issue also could pave the way for realignment in the district. A proposed plan calls for all students in grades four through six to attend in Frank Ohl, while all seventh- and eighth-graders would attend Austintown Middle School or the new junior high.

About 950 students in grades 5-8 attend Austintown Middle School, while about 750 students in the same grades attend Frank Ohl.

Denamen said teachers would find it easier to prepare fourth- and sixth-graders for the state proficiency tests if they were in the same building. In addition, he said realignment would help equalize class sizes in the district while centralizing the district's schools.

Fitch High School, Frank Ohl, Watson Elementary School and the school board offices are on Falcon Drive near the proposed site of the new junior high. A new public library also is under construction on Raccoon Road just north of the proposed school site.

"We felt it was educationally sound," Denamen said of the realignment plan.

A committee of local residents and school officials created the plan in April 2000.

In planning stages: Denamen also said that the board is thinking about constructing a new transportation building near Falcon Drive.

Denamen added that money from the bond issue also would help the board meet its responsibilities under the state Expedited Local Partnership program. The program calls for the state to pay for 34 percent of the cost of bringing the Austintown school buildings up to state standards. The remaining 66 percent of the cost would come from local sources.

As part of the program, a team of contractors hired by the Ohio School Facilities Commission toured the Austintown schools in February. The contractors will lay out their recommendations for the schools in a "master plan" for the district.

The board is expected to meet with the contractors Tuesday in Columbus to discuss the master plan. Denamen said he didn't expect to receive state funding for the master plan until 2009.

hill@vindy.com




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