AUSTINTOWN MIDDLE SCHOOL Falling plaster has pupils ready to hit the ceiling

A bond issue to replace the school failed twice and will not be on the November ballot.
AUSTINTOWN -- It's best to pay close attention to the ceiling when you're visiting Austintown Middle School.
"There's a lot of things from the ceiling that come down," said eighth-grader Michael Dota, 14. "I've seen a kid get hit in the head with plaster."
Eighth-graders Todd Pasquale, 13, and Kari Sturdevant, 14, added that they've also seen ceiling plaster fall on pupils. Nikki Williams, another eighth-grader, noted that the ceiling is falling apart in the girl's locker room.
"You can't even walk in the shower room because the ceiling's coming down," said Nikki, 13.
The ceiling's not the only problem at the 86-year-old school on Mahoning Avenue. Todd said he's been burned by the school's radiators, and several pupils complained that the school is excessively hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
"You notice the heat," Principal Dan Bokesch said earlier this week. "Yesterday and the day before was brutal."
A total of 884 fifth- through eighth-graders attend the school.
Bond issues fail
District officials had hoped to replace the school using some of the $32 million they wanted to borrow from the community through a bond issue. The bond issue, however, failed at the polls in the past two elections.
It will not appear on the ballot in November.
Superintendent Rich Denamen said the school board was concerned about overwhelming township residents with tax issues. He noted that the board most likely will seek voter approval of an additional operating levy next year.
"You try to spread those things out to prevent overwhelming," Denamen said. "Obviously, our first priority is to make sure we have operating money to keep the system going."
The school board is set to meet at the middle school Monday to pass a $36 million budget for the 2002-2003 school year. Denamen said the board will dip into a $3 million carry-over from the 2001-2002 year to balance the budget.
No point in renovating it
Denamen also said the board understands that the middle school isn't getting any younger. He added, however, the board won't pay for major renovations to the school when it would be cheaper to build a new school.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission has determined that the cost of renovating the middle school to bring it to state code is equal to about 70 percent of the cost of a new school.
"We're not going to sink a lot of money into that building," Denamen said. He stressed that the school is safe for pupils.
Bokesch said he constantly looks for structural flaws in the building that need to be repaired. He said the ceiling above the entrance near the school's main office was replaced when it began to sag, and mortar has been added to some of the school's walls.
Bokesch noted that no pupils have reported injuries as a result of the crumbling building, and the school has not been closed because of a building problem during the past 33 years.
"I always look for safety problems," he said. "Every day, every single day."

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