Deteriorating building creating big concerns for a crowded district

COLUMBIANA – Shuttered for nearly half a year, the 1962 edition of South Side Middle School is deteriorating fast and the district cannot continue housing students at other buildings, Superintendent Don Mook said.

“We definitely have – and continue to have – some serious issues, and that is why we don’t allow students in these areas,” he said during a presentation to the board last week

A video highlighting areas of the building showed where ceiling tiles soaked from leaking water were nearly falling to the floor. In one part of a hallway a tile actually had fallen to the floor, and insulation was hanging through the exposed holes in other areas.

Over the six months since the district decided to close that portion of the building, it has drastically fallen into disrepair, Mook said, and board members agreed.

The board took a tour of the shuttered section after the video presentation to see first-hand the effects age, wear and tear and Mother Nature have had on the 50-year-old structure.

“I know a lot of people who are proud of Columbiana, however, this evening I have seen something that nobody should be proud of. That building is in bad shape and it is deteriorating far faster than it was six months ago,” Board President Mark Hutson said.

Board members were appalled with its condition while walking through the halls and seeing water stains on the floors and ceilings and the antiquated heating and ventilation systems.

Mook said if something is not done about the building soon, the district will eventually have to turn away open enrollment students.

“Joshua Dixon is bursting at the seams,” he said of the elementary school that is currently housing some of the middle school students.

The rest are at the 1969 edition of the middle school building. A portion of the high school, which is connected to the building, is being used for lunches and the middle school offices.

Mook told the board the district has a few options to pursue, one being trying yet again for a bond issue, although that should not be relied on at this point.

“Do we invest some money in this facility or do we continue to limp by and hope the public will be interested in saving us? In this case I think we have to do what is right to save that facility,” he said.

The district has asked voters to pass a $4 million bond issue three times since 2012, with the most recent being the November general election. The bond would have generated the additional taxes over 29 years, with revenue focused on replacing the flat roof with a pitched roof, upgrading the heating and ventilation system, handicap accessibility, and other needed improvements.

The roof replacement was the most expensive of the repairs, with district estimates around $1.5 million. The figure was based on the cost of the pitched roof at Joshua Dixon, Treasurer Lori Posey said.

“The public has said no several times obviously and part of it is the total amount of money we are asking for,” new board member Scott Caron said.

He asked if that amount could be lowered by the district performing some of the renovations on its own.

Mook said that is an option, but noted any money spent by the district will come from the general fund and that money cannot be recouped through the bond issue revenue.

State law stipulates bond issue money can only be spent on capital improvement projects.

Mook said spending general fund money to perform the repairs will chip away at operational dollars and a tax levy would be likely later on down the road.

But he believes the district cannot afford to wait any longer.

“I can tell you that, having gone through three bond issues already, I’m not going to tell you I won’t roll my sleeves up again and go after it, but I think we’ve got to make sure we don’t let our building get into a position where we can’t recover it, and I think we are moving in that direction,” he said.

The district would throw out the idea of a pitched roof since a flat roof is not as expensive. Early verbal estimates for a new 40,000-square-foot flat roof were between $350,000 and $750,000, he said.

The district has already spent about $1,000 on replacing some of the ceiling tiles, and moving ahead without help from tax payers would mean replacing the roof and installing all new tiles and replacing wet insulation using district money, he explained.

“I’d recommend that we fix this roof so we can use our facilities. We are in desperate need of space,” he said. “Not that I think we need to have a bond issue, I just think at this point in time we need to protect the remainder of our facility. We need to do whatever is necessary so that we don’t continue down that path of deterioration.”

Since the closure, the building’s roof has been patched in areas by Boak and Sons Inc. The Youngstown company has an annual maintenance contract with the district.

Mook said another option is moving away from a middle school facility entirely, although he and board members weren’t keen on that idea.

“I like the middle school concept, it works well for us, it works well for the schools,” he said.

New board member Michael Clark agreed and said he would not feel comfortable with his middle school children attending classes with high school students.

Caron said the district should speak to an architect and get some actual estimates for replacing the roof, which the board agreed to do following a closed door meeting held at the end of regular meeting.

“I would like the people of this community that are really proud of this community to see what this building looks like today. I’ve heard comments that Mr. Mook may have made some things up to make it look worse I would invite everyone to please come to this school and take a tour and see what shape this building is in,” Hutson said.