By Robert Connelly
A smaller crowd led to longer and follow-up questions from residents who came out to hear about a proposed bond to build a new Austintown high school.
Many fewer people attended Thursday night’s board of education meeting than the dozens who came out last month to the first town hall about the proposed 4.1-mill capital improvements bond.
Only 10 to 15 heard school district officials explain why the bond should be approved in the May 6 election, so they were not asked to write their questions on index cards for a moderator to choose from. Instead, residents were allowed to raise their hand and even ask follow-up questions of levy committee co-chairwomen Lori Gavalier and Kim Smrek and district officials.
Three residents in particular had multiple concerns from maintenance to long-term planning for replacement of specific building parts, such as water heaters, to the overall building.
A primary point of contention, however, was when the district knew Fitch needed to be replaced and why that wasn’t communicated better to the public. District Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission toured district schools in 2003 and recommended that Fitch, along with the other schools, be renovated or rebuilt.
According to Vindicator archives, the OFCC announced partial funding for a new Fitch building last summer.
Residents Randi Baun and David Daichendt wanted to know why the district didn’t let residents know years in advance that a new high school would be needed. Daichendt said he met with Gavalier for three hours earlier in the week but continued to ask questions Thursday.
“I believe the numbers support rebuild rather than refurbish. ... The problem I still have is the stewardship of the money and who is in control of it,” said Daichendt, who still hasn’t decided how he will vote on the levy. “This was just kind of sprung on us in the last couple of months. No one in this community had really any knowledge of this endeavor prior to the last couple of months.”
Baun said he came to the meeting wanting to be persuaded to vote in favor of the levy, but he left unsure how he will vote and kept asking for a backup plan if the levy fails.
“I just don’t like getting that sense of maybe getting backed into a corner,” he said.
Colaluca told the crowd the board doesn’t have the $30,000 necessary “without a big donor contribution” to put the measure on an August special ballot before the state funds are no longer guaranteed.
The board voted in January to place the 4.1-mill bond, which acts as a loan for 37 years, on the May ballot.
If approved, the state will provide 47 percent, or $31 million, of the $75 million project. The bond is expected to raise more than $45 million, with $34 million going toward construction costs.
An additional $10 million will go toward revamping the gym, auditorium, classrooms by the auditorium, and football stadium.