By Jordyn Grzelewski
The board of education heard Monday from community members who are upset about the possible loss of what they say is a vital community asset: a playground at the North school building.
This building used to be home to an elementary school and now is used for the school district’s preschool and after-school programs.
“What are the kids on that side of town going to do if there’s not a playground there?” asked Evelyn Stanton, who is helping lead an effort to raise money to save the playground.
District officials learned that playground equipment at North had been deemed unsafe by the Mahoning County health department and opted to put the equipment up for sale rather than make repairs. School officials said their priority was solving the safety issue at no cost to taxpayers. The plan was then to turn the area into green space.
In recent weeks, however, community members have organized in opposition to that plan. After hearing from school district residents who want to save the playground equipment, officials Monday said they would be open to changing the plan.
Annie Colucci, who started an online petition to halt school officials’ original plan, told the board that she has received numerous donation offers from individuals and businesses that would not only cover the cost of making repairs to the equipment, but also would allow installation of equipment meant for preschool-aged children.
“I’ve lived in Poland my whole life. I’m very proud of my community,” said Colucci. “I think it’s important for the future of the kids in the community to have that [play] area.”
Also speaking against removal of the equipment was Judy Young, a former physical-education teacher at Poland Seminary High School. Young noted that play areas are beneficial for children’s motor skill development.
“I think as a group, this whole community wants these schools to be the best,” she said. “We’ve got to work together to bring it all together.”
While exchanges between board members and those speaking during public comment at some points grew tense, some consensus was reached. Superintendent David Janofa will meet with community members to come up with a plan for the playground. That plan then will be brought back to the board.
“We’re here to listen to you, and we’re here to do what you want us to do,” said board member Dr. Larry Dinopoulos. “I’m not here to get rid of the playground, but I can also tell you I’m not willing to spend $40,000 to 50,000 to repair it.”
He and other officials noted that the school district is facing other, pressing infrastructure issues. For example, the school district has been dealing for some time with roof damage at the middle school. The board received an update on the issue Monday. Three companies have submitted bids for a project to repair the roof.
One mother at Monday’s meeting, Heather Trolio, said she is more concerned about issues like that than about the North playground. She said that her daughter recently was hit by water from a leaking roof while she was in a classroom.
“I think it’s frivolous that we’re spending so much time talking about a playground when we have buildings falling apart,” she said. “We need to move forward and make sure our children are safe when they’re in their learning institution.”
In other business, the board approved two-year contracts for a middle-school principal and associate principal. Beginning Aug. 1, David Purins, who is leaving his job as assistant principal at Austintown Fitch High School, will become principal, and Lisa Iberis, who has been interim assistant principal for the middle school and McKinley for six months, will take over the associate principal job. Purins will make $79,139 per year and Iberis will make $74,141.
They replace, respectively, Poland Middle School Principal Mark Covell, who is retiring in August, and former McKinley Elementary Principal Ed Kempers, who retired midway through last school year. The middle school and McKinley are connected, and beginning this school year, part of McKinley will be shut down as part of a plan to consolidate students into less building space across the district. Rather than have two head principals, the school district opted to have a principal and associate principal oversee all four grade levels.
“I’m extremely excited to join this community,” Purins told the board. “It’s a community and a school system that expect excellence. I embrace that.”
“We are tremendously excited about this team,” said Janofa.