By Jon Moffett
The schools chief seeks passage of a bond issue to fund local share of razing five buildings, building two new ones.
AUSTINTOWN — Thousands of current and former students, faculty and staff of Austintown local schools gathered around a bonfire to celebrate unity and pride in the school system.
School administrators hope the fire of school spirit still burns later this fall when a 2.9-mill bond issue will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. The district hopes to fund its $26 million share of a school expansion project through the sale of bonds.
The pep rally last week behind Falcon Stadium celebrated a successful start to the fall sports season for Fitch and its annual athletic Hall of Fame inductions.
But Superintendent Vincent Colaluca took advantage of the gathering and briefly addressed the crowd, reminding them of the major decision looming for township voters.
“If you can give us your support, we’d really appreciate it,” he said before encouraging the students in their athletics.
If approved by voters, the bond issue would help fund the district’s 53 percent share of a $50 million facility-expansion project to build two schools and create a central campus for the district.
The new buildings would be constructed at the sites of Frank Ohl Intermediate and Watson Elementary schools. They would house kindergarten through second grade in one building and third through fifth grade in the other.
The project is part of a $1.4 billion plan approved by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which will benefit 32 school districts statewide.
The state has allocated and will provide 47 percent of the costs, and the district will be responsible for the remaining 53 percent, more than $26 million, according to OSFC documents.
Those at the rally offered their views.
“I think it’s a golden opportunity,” said Scott Cochran, 39, of Austintown. “We have a new middle school, Fitch High School is in pretty good condition and for them to consolidate down to two new buildings, we’ll have pretty new buildings for every school throughout the school system.”
Cochran said though his children will be too old to attend the new schools, it is still important for township residents to pass the issue.
“It’s great for our community,” he said. “It’ll be a reason people will want to move here, and it will keep our property values up. I think now is the time to do it.”
Theresa Givens, 42, said, “In the past, I haven’t always supported the issues, but I think it’s an offer that [the district] just can’t turn down.”
Others cited the ages and conditions of the current buildings, saying upgrades are needed.
Gus Grivensky, 84, said many of the older buildings would have to be replaced or remodeled soon anyway, and the township should take advantage of the project.
Abby Razapourian, 58, said, “It’s going to be there for years and used by the students. It’s not something you want to pass up.”
Not all township residents are in favor of the project, however.
Many at the rally said they either didn’t know enough about the issue to comment or declined to do so. One said she hopes the issue passes but remains skeptical.
“I think layoffs and job loss will affect how people vote,” said Debbie Magni, 43. “People don’t want to see their taxes increase. I don’t think it will pass. ... I’m all for it, but I don’t think it will pass.”
She added that the district will have “missed the boat” if the levy fails.
Richard Zimmerman, school board president, said if the levy passes, taxes would increase by about $7 per month.
Many of the district’s current buildings have not received significant upgrades since their construction. Woodside (1946), Lynn Kirk (1958), Lloyd (1955) and Watson (1961) Elementary schools and Frank Ohl (1961) would be demolished if the project is completed.