Austintown residents, school officials debating cost of new high school


AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — On the May 6 ballot, Austintown will vote on a $4.1 million bond issue to build a new Fitch High School. It will cost homeowners an extra $12 per month for 37 years for each $100 thousand in value.

The total cost is $77 million. Thirty-one million of that would come from the state, and $37 million would be generated by the bond issue, along with another $9 million to renovate the auditorium, gym and stadium.

But does Austintown really need a new high school?

Walking through the halls of Austintown Fitch High School, it doesn’t appear the building needs replaced. Built in 1968, it is well maintained.

But according to my tour guides, there are several reasons to build new and tear this building down, starting with the heating system and the missing ceiling tiles needed for ventilation.

“To totally change out everyone of these, and redo all the piping and plumbing, we have to shut the school down, and that’s a major problem,” Austintown Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca said. “Where do we put the kids?”

The electrical system is maxed out. The rooms lack the electrical outlets necessary for the computer world. And the way the walls were built, it is impossible to upgrade.

School officials say the rooms are too small as well.

“In the middle school, the standard core classroom is nine hundred square feet. Once again, this is nowhere near 900 square feet. This is probably 150-200 square feet smaller,” Austintown Fitch High School Principal Chris Berni said. “Larger body size than at the middle school level.”

There are also safety issues. There is no sprinkler system, and the interior hallways don’t lead to exteriors doors.

“When you get to the bottom of the stairwell, you can’t go out of the building,” said Fitch High School Facilities Director Mal Culp. “If there were a problem with a fire down here, you walk right into it.”

“I like the plan as it sits,” opponent of the bond issue Lynn Parker. “Not at that cost.”

Another opponent, Dave Daichendt, has two kids in the Austintown Schools. He too likes the plan but is voting against the leadership.

“Everything I hear from the board and the administration is spin,” Daichendt said. “It’s all geared toward making an impression in an hour and a half to public without providing any real solid information. And that’s not acceptable to me.”

Neil Frasca has been an outspoken opponent of the bond issue.

“There’s nothing wrong with that building that’s there. It’s 48 years old; beautiful, well constructed things, cafeteria in the middle, everything in the middle, classrooms on the outside,” Frasca said. “What more did you want?”

In 2010, Austintown voters agreed to a $2.9 million bond issue to build two new schools,  which, along with a new middle school, is another reason why proponents want a new high school.

“The kids are leaving three years of a state of the art middle school, and they’re stepping backwards,” Berni said.

Lori Gavalier, the wife of Austintown’s police chief and member of the Austintown Levy Committee, is co-chairing the campaign to get the high school bond issue passed. She knows it will be a tough sell.

“That’s why we’re trying to get the information out there, the facts out there, so the people do know how to vote at election time,” Gavalier said.

School officials oppose renovating because when using state money, schools must abide by the state’s rules. The state will not renovate when renovation costs exceed two-thirds of building new which, according to the state plan, Fitch does.

The state’s offer of paying 47 percent for a new Fitch High expires in August.

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