If it is a harbinger of things to come, this past week's meeting of the Youngstown Board of Education at which just two of the district's many building projects were discussed should raise concerns among board members, administrators and residents alike.
The Youngstown City School District is in the early days of a $180 million construction and renovation program, largely financed by the state, that could help redefine education in the city. Virtually every student will be attending class in a new or renovated structure. If there is a new technology available to help educate children, each of these buildings should be able to accommodate it.
We have said before that this building program provides the school district with an opportunity to tailor its facilities to the educational needs of its students. The educational staff will still be the key to success, but they will not be hampered by outdated buildings. We still hope to see the building program reach its potential.
But we have to admit that a story in Wednesday's editions gave us pause.
The board was discussing surprising developments regarding demolition of Taft Elementary School and construction of the new West Elementary School at Schenley Park.
In the case of Taft's demolition, the board was told that the projected cost of the work had more than doubled since an estimate of four years ago.
By the numbers
A 1998 estimate prepared for the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission placed the cost of demolition at $119,176, including asbestos removal. The board's project manager now estimates the cost of asbestos removal alone at $123,200, with an additional $143,884 for demolition. The explanation board members were given: asbestos removal was a lot more extensive than had been anticipated.
Board members felt they had to move ahead with seeking bids on the work, but they should demand a more specific explanation. The science of asbestos removal hasn't changed that much in four years. How could the initial estimate be that far off? And if this estimate is flawed, how many other estimates are off base?
If this was an aberration, that's manageable. But if other estimates are equally flawed, the board is going to find it impossible to stay on budget.
As to the West Elementary project, the fault lies not with the state or the board of education, but with Youngstown City Council. The board has been told that council members are reluctant to sell the board four acres of city-owned land as long as the board is pursuing a totally unrelated lawsuit against the city regarding tax breaks given to the Corrections Corporation of America.
Whatever differences may exist between the board and council, it is unacceptable for council to attempt to bully the board into dropping its suit. The tax dispute should be worked out in the courts, given time.