By IAN HILL
and PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
T'S TIME TO REPLACE Austintown Middle School.
That's what many township residents said Thursday night when they met at the township park pavilion as part of 20/20-Austintown, an effort to create a plan for the township. Another 20/20-Austintown meeting was held at the same time at Immaculate Heart of Mary hall.
About 65 residents attended that meeting, which consisted mostly of frank, informal small group discussions facilitated by Ball State University architecture and urban planning students. Additional meetings are set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Austintown Middle School and Austintown library.
Residents at the pavilion were asked what issues they would like to see addressed in the township in the future. Most said the middle school, which was built in 1916 and is in need of repair.
"I was shocked by the passion about doing something about the middle school," said Dr. Fred Owens, president of the Austintown Growth Foundation. The growth foundation initiated the planning effort and is raising $25,000 to pay for the plan.
Pupils at the middle school have said they've watched their classmates get hit by plaster falling from the school's ceiling. Bond issues which would have allowed the school board to replace the middle school failed at the ballot in November 2001 and May 2002.
The middle school showed up on several lists of township issues compiled by residents Thursday night. Other issues included parks, traffic and large business signs.
"There's too many big signs along the main drag," said Tom Arne of South Wickliffe Circle.
The residents were asked to place stickers on the lists next to the issues they felt were most important. Stickers with stars indicated that the issue was extremely important.
Austintown Middle School received 16 stickers with stars, far more than any other issue on the lists.
Other issues identified as important by the residents included economic development, code enforcement and the development of a recreation center.
Residents were then split into groups and told to discuss those top four issues. The middle school group talked about passing a bond issue to replace the school.
They also discussed upgrading all the schools, consolidating the district's two middle schools, and the possibility that the elementary schools were overcrowded.
Residents in the recreation center group said they'd like to see a center constructed with an ice rink, a pool, and facilities for tennis, golf, racquetball and cross-country skiing. The code enforcement group said they want the community to improve the look of Mahoning Avenue and clean up dilapidated property.
They also want the township to enforce its zoning laws.
Residents in the economic development group discussed widening state Route 46, creating a township business park, and attracting new businesses to the community.
"You can't have all residential and no business," Arne said.
The meeting was conducted by Dr. James Segedy, director of community-based projects at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., as well as several Ball State students. The Ball State group was hired by the growth foundation to create the plan.
At the beginning of the meeting, Segedy asked the residents to form small groups and discuss what they liked about their community.
Art DePaola of Ayrshire Drive described Austintown as "a small town with big-town potential."
His son, Christopher DePaola of Country Ridge Drive, said he thought the township park was an asset. "It's a nice park, probably the best-kept secret in Austintown," he said.
Spring Meadow Circle resident Dorothy Donald added that she thought the new Austintown library was a nice addition to the township.
"It adds a sense of community," she said.
Segedy and the Ball State students will use comments collected at the meetings to create a draft of the plan, which will be presented to the public in March. The plan is expected to be complete in August.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary group listed the top five issues facing the township, in order of importance, as appearance and aesthetics, maintenance and operation of schools, community recreation, community services (fire, police etc.), and cleaning up sleaze. The next five (not rank ordered) were: identity issues, art issues, low income housing, park matters, and creation of professional jobs.