Concerns voiced over new Stark Co. school

Board says it is watching budget

For The Prairie News

WYOMING – Four Stark County residents voiced concerns about a school renovation project during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting of the Stark County Board of Education.
The speakers told board members that the school renovation project should be put on hold, asked them to reconsider building a new school and expressed concerns about higher tax rates.
Local farmer Doug Milby said in his statements that he “didn’t attend some of the other information meetings” because “I was gone, I wasn’t here.”
Milby, in addressing the board, said, “I feel that this is the poorest time to ever think of starting a new school.”
Milby said the cost of materials “is skyrocketing” and said he believes the board should “drag their feet” on this project at this point in time.
Milby also asked that if Stark County’s tax rate increases, will Bradford students choose Bureau Valley High School as the school to attend instead of Stark County High School?
Milby closed out his statements by saying, “I never got a chance to vote on this building” and said that his “rights were tromped on.”
Keith Webster said, “I’ve been frustrated watching this process come out.”
Webster said his frustration is based upon “what little say I feel that I’ve had.” He noted that part of the blame is his own because he did not attend earlier meetings.
Webster said frustration also stems from the original estimated cost of $15 million now being estimated at over $16 million.
“Where are we going to stop?” he asked.
Jim Castagna, local Stark County farmer, said he believes many people were not aware of a new school building being built and that it won’t be safer than the existing school building. In regards to hopes the new building might boost attendance, Castagna said that other school districts have built new school buildings and have not “increased their numbers.”
“I’m afraid you’re thinking that a new building is going to solve your problems and I think you are going to give the taxpayers a lot of burden,” Castagna said.
In response, Board President Ann Orwig discussed a summary of the timeline leading up to the new school building as far as meetings that were held.
“We found that there was a significant cost to put a Band-Aid on that [existing] building and that’s when we began looking at a renovation project,” Orwig said.
Orwig suggested that the cost of repairing the existing school building would be a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.
“In the fall of 2019 the Farnsworth Group presented those plans – we had a lot of community members who were in attendance, those plans were highlighted in the local media and they were highlighted on our Facebook page,” Orwig said.
Orwig said that a special meeting was held in February of 2020 where the public was invited to attend, and taxpayers were given an opportunity to know what impact the project would have on their property taxes. At the Feb. 24, 2020, regular board meeting Orwig said, “Everyone, except one person, spoke highly in favor of the project.”
Orwig also said the board is aware of the escalating costs and that they are keeping an eye on the budget and not merely signing “a blank check.” She said public input has been sought out with input opportunities present at past meetings.
Orwig also said the board would not drag their feet when it comes to safety of students, because that would be “irresponsible.”
She closed by saying, “I work for the taxpayers, but I also work for the kids in this district.”
The Farnsworth Group and CORE Construction representatives provided an update on the school building renovation project and said the total cost is currently $16,535,000.
As far as a tentative timeline, construction is to start Aug. 17 with a completion date of Aug. 1, 2022. The overall project completion date is Dec. 23, 2022.
A new gymnasium has been removed from the plans, due to additional costs projected.
In other agenda business, the board approved bids for milk from Prairie Farms, trash pickup from Area Disposal and printing of the Rebel Reporter by Lampe Publications. No bids were received for bread products, so the school district will use a food cooperative.
After closed session, the board:
• Hired Desiree Gentry as custodian, Jacob Siekmann as elementary physical education teacher and Clint Terwilliger as assistant football coach;
• Accepted the resignations of Sarah Stieghorst as sophomore class sponsor and Logan Thake as elementary physical education teacher.