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Columbiana school officials make case again for bond issue to fund renovations

October 26, 2012
Morning Journal News

COLUMBIANA - It's a "sweat shop" in the summertime and kids have a difficult time learning while sitting next to a garbage can catching leaking water from the ceiling, Columbiana school officials said Thursday at South Side Middle School.

Seated in the multipurpose room at the school, community members listened as Superintendent Don Mook and school employees yet again indicated a bond issue is needed to pay for the 50-year-old school's renovation.

The board had placed a bond issue on the August election ballot but it was defeated. If passed, the property tax levy would have generated $4 million over 29 years for the repairs.

Mook said that in addition to modifications to its handicap accessibility, the school is in need of a new roof, heating and ventilation system, new ceiling and floor tiles, a new gymnasium floor and fire alarm system.

He said several times during the public meeting the district is competing with other area schools to draw students and that competition includes facilities.

"You can almost not go anywhere in Columbiana County and not find new buildings," he said.

He added the district doesn't intend to replace the building, as that would cost significantly more, but to make repairs to the already existing structure, which building and grounds director Jim Marino called "structurally sound."

Marino was asked by Mook to talk about the high school, but instead took his time during the meeting to discuss the middle school, which he jokingly referred to as the "middle child" of the buildings.

"It doesn't get as much as the high school and elementary ... It's just unbelievable what we can do with this building with new lights, new ceiling tiles," he said.

He also noted the building doesn't have air conditioning, making it feel like a sweat shop in the summer.

The building houses students in grades 5-8 and earned an excellent with distinction rating from the Ohio Department of Education this year for academic performance. The building was also rated excellent with distinction in 2010.

"I think it's time we give these kids what they deserve," Marino said.

Treasurer Lori Posey said the district has not had the means to put money toward building improvements as a result of "operational issues the district has faced" over the years and the loss of the Permanent Improvement levy in 2002. The levy was originally passed in 1977 and renewed every five years until 2002.

She said this year's bond issue would have allowed the district to extend the life of the middle school more than 40 years.

"The board has not neglected South Side, it just has not been able to fund the major renovations that are needed for a 50-year-old building ... a bond issue would provide the necessary dollars for the renovation," she said.

Mook said, for a second time this year, that he takes responsibility for the defeat of the bond issue and how it was relayed to voters.

"I take full responsibility with how the bond issue went out," he said.

Mook had made the recommendation to the board, who approved placing it on the ballot. Some residents were not pleased with the time frame in which the decision was made and presented before voters.

(Little more than four months passed between the decision and the election date.)

Some residents even accused the district of trying to "sneak" the issue under the radar, although board members had argued that wasn't the case.

"We got beat up over this issue in August," Mook said. "If we move forward with another one it will be a traditional campaign."

He explained the reason why the bond was placed on the August ballot as opposed to November was so they could get a head start on construction before the year was over.

Other school district employees who spoke during the meeting were middle school principal David Buzzard, technology coordinator Jason Martin, Joshua Dixon Elementary principal Kim Sharshan and high school principal Lance Hostetler.



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