Two new elementary schools could open as soon as September 2004.
& lt;a href=mailto:email@example.com & gt;By JoANNE VIVIANO & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City schools officials believe the spring will bring not only the first building blocks of the district's new schools, but also new hope to a community in need of rebirth.
Two years in the works, plans that will bring six new schools and renovations to 10 buildings will be turned into concrete and steel beginning in April. The work is part of a $182.5 million project.
"I'd like to think this program represents economic growth and acceptance by the minority community, and stability to the community and family life in this Valley," said Al Curry, the school district's equal employment opportunity contract compliance officer for the construction program. Curry works to help contractors hire minorities and community members.
"My hope and dream is to get as many people who want to be in this project involved," said Curry.
School improvements should also increase property values, said Tony DeNiro Jr., the district's executive director of school business affairs. Also, vacant land near North Elementary School or the new East Middle School could be used for new homes.
With assistance from the city, DeNiro said, the project is becoming a community issue and could be a springboard for future improvements citywide.
"I'm a firm believer that a community is only as good as the schools it supplies its community with," DeNiro said. "New buildings aren't the answer, but new buildings will create a positive learning experience for students."
DeNiro referred to another district, Windham in Portage County, which saw proficiency test scores improve with new construction. Pupils, he said, wanted to come to school. They also were comfortable: New schools have better insulation against winter drafts and air conditioning for hot spring days.
Eighty percent of the project is funded by a grant from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The rest is funded through a 4.4-mill property tax issue that was passed in November 1999.
Plans for the improvements have been in the works since January 2000, and some building contract proposals are being reviewed, with contract awards going out as soon as April.
"There's going to be a lot going on this spring, summer and early fall," DeNiro said.
With five architects on the jobs, each building will "have its own stamp on it," DeNiro said, avoiding "cookie cutter" schools.
One thing that will be the same in each school is easy access to media centers. The centers, equipped with computers, will be near the front entrances of buildings for easy access to community members. DeNiro said the district wants to open the centers to the community during after-school hours. Each will also meet requirements for disability access with handrails, elevators and other mandated items.
Construction on Harding and Taft elementary schools is to begin in April, with hopes for September 2004 openings. Work will also start on West, Mary Haddow and Bunn elementary schools before fall.
Chaney High School and the new East High School are also slated for work in the coming seasons. A goal, DeNiro said, is to open them at the same time in the fall of 2005. Chaney will double in size, and each building will accommodate 1,250 pupils.
Among the last projects on the list are the renovations of Rayen and Wilson high schools into middle schools.
The district is asking all contractors to attempt to hire 20 percent minorities and women and 50 percent district residents for the work.
During a 2000 campaign for the property tax issue, contractors and other supporters of the tax promoted the minority hiring issue.
In an effort to encourage the hiring practices, the district is assessing any community members who want to take apprenticeship tests to join trade unions, Curry said. The test gauges reading, writing and math skills. An electricians test also requires algebra.
If prospective workers need further help, they are referred to a community education program.
Curry said one man told him, "Not everybody wants to be a drug dealer. I want to work."
Curry said names of those who pass the tests are available to contractors, and a subcommittee meets with union representatives monthly to discuss progress.
"We have a list of about 175 candidates ready to go to work today," Curry said. "We hope to build it up to 300 people."
Curry said about 90 percent of the list is made up of Youngstown residents. Also, 90 percent is made up of men, and he hopes to see more women test for the jobs.
Workers on the list have been employed for demolition work and asbestos abatement at the Harding and Taft locations, as well as roofing projects at Kirkmere Elementary and Rayen and Wilson high schools, Curry said.
DeNiro added that minority contractors were hired to demolish four homes to make way for new school buildings, and a minority company performed cleanup work after the city burned homes at the new East High School site.
Curry also referred to a Johnson Controls Diversity Initiative as "one of the great steps we've made." Johnson Controls, he said, works with mom and pop minority contractors and trains them to partner with the company to install heating and cooling systems in the schools. Small companies become linked into the Johnson Controls network with offices all over the country.
Curry said Youngstown's minority hiring plan is serving as a model in the state as more districts plan school construction projects.
"If people get on to this project and get the skills to work, they will, ostensibly, be able to follow projects around the state for the next 25 years," Curry said.