The school district's building project moves from blueprints to bulldozers.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Nearly two years after voters gave their stamp of approval, the Youngstown schools' $182.5 million facilities project officially got under way this morning on the city's North Side.
City school board members and Superintendent Ben McGee joined officials from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, community leaders and pupils to break ground on the new $7.6 million Harding Elementary School on Cordova Avenue.
"It's been a long time coming," board President Lock P. Beachum Sr. said this morning.
The new Harding school will be the first step in a six-year project that calls for four new elementary schools, a new high school and a new middle school, as well as major renovations or additions to as many as a dozen other school buildings in the city.
It is believed to be the biggest public works project in the city's history.
"Instead of just seeing everything on paper, now you're going to really see some heavy machinery and beginning to work and prepare the sites," Beachum said.
"It's very, very exciting. We're beginning to see change. Change sometimes comes slow."
Voters approved a 4.4-mill tax issue in November 2000 to raise the local share of the project. The school district will pay about 20 percent of the costs, while the OSFC will pay about 80 percent.
McGee said the project means more than better school buildings.
"It sends a message about how we value students," he said.
Before the new Harding school can be constructed, the old school must be demolished.
The school closed in June and its pupils have been relocated to Jefferson Elementary School in Brier Hill until the next school can be built on the same site.
A fence will go up around the school next week, and crews will remove asbestos before beginning demolition in late October, said Tony DeNiro, executive director of administrative services.
The building should be down by mid-November and the new school should be ready for the start of the 2004-05 school year, he said.
Talut Rasul, executive director of the Northside Coalition, said the new school could help revitalize the neighborhood.
"Hopefully when the school is finished this entire block will look entirely different," he said outside the school this morning.
Others to follow
Taft Elementary School on the South Side also will be demolished and rebuilt on a schedule about one month behind Harding and also should be ready for the 2004-05 academic year, DeNiro said.
Taft also closed in June and its pupils have been relocated to Bennett Elementary School.
"Today is great," DeNiro said about the official groundbreaking. "But when I see the fence go around those schools and the asbestos start coming out and when I see the shovel go into those schools, then I'll know we're really getting there.
"A lot of things have been going on the last two years to lay the groundwork for this."
More construction planned
DeNiro said the school district also hopes to begin construction soon on a new elementary school at Schenley Park on the city's West Side. That building could be delayed because of a dispute between the school district and city over four acres of city-owned land at the park.
Major renovations and additions to Chaney High School could begin in February, while construction of the new East Middle School could begin next spring, DeNiro said.
Construction of a new high school on the East Side could start next summer, he said.