Ironton school officials seek community input on future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ironton is the only school district in Lawrence County that has not had either a major renovation or building project in the last 10 years, but that may be changing.

Ironton City Schools Superintendent Dean Nance said officials with the Ohio School Facilities Commission were in town earlier this month to discuss the process of getting state funding for school facilities projects and will be back early next year for an up-close-and-personal look at the city's school buildings.

Nance said it is looking more hopeful that the city school district will get its chance to pass a local bond issue and thus obtain state funding to either renovate existing buildings or build new facilities, dependent in large part to what the wishes of the community.

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Money, money, money

According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission district rankings list for school construction funding for the coming fiscal year, Ironton is in the 14th spot

in terms of eligibility to receive funding within the next two years.

Two important considerations on that list is a low property tax assessment rate and an either stable or increasing student population. Even though the city is in the middle of a tax assessment, Nance said state officials have advised him that it and other districts under consideration for state funding within the new two years will be "locked in" at current tax rates.

The student population in the city district is on the rise, barely. "As long as nothing changes with the population," Nance said, "the latest we will be on the ballot is November 2006. We're 99.9 percent guaranteed."

Visitors to town

Nance said the OSFC will send a team of

evaluators to Ironton sometime between January and March to inspect the school buildings. "They'll be looking at electrical (systems), heating and cooling, architecture, plumbing, and one thing that's new is environmental conditions," Nance said.

Between April and June 2005, once building assessments are done, focus will shift to planning and design. The plans drawn up in 1999 are too old to be of use, Nance said.

After design plans are created, they will then be given to the state to determine cost estimates.

Opinions wanted

Along the way, community residents will be asked to give their input on a myriad of issues.

"We're looking for people to participate in planning," Nance said. "We've already had some people approach us, saying they want to be a part of things," Nance said.

One of them is Jay Zornes an Ironton alumnus, businessman and father of a future ICS student. Zornes said he has been impressed with the way schools officials have tried to make positive changes in the last few years and decided to get involved.

Zornes said as a businessman, he is aware that good schools are imperative to a growing economy.

"I just don't see economic development coming in here if the infrastructure and educational facilities are not top-notch. … A lot of people don't equate education with economic development but when business people are looking to come in, this is one of the things they look at. Their employees are concerned about where their kids are going to go to school. (Poor) education is a big determinant, along with city infrastructure."

Community input meetings will probably take place in April.

Renovate or build anew?

One of the chief issues on which local input is needed is whether to construct new facilities, renovate existing ones or have a combination of renovation and new construction.

Nance said he plans to give tours of the buildings sometimes early next year to people in the community who want to see first-hand the strengths and weaknesses of each building so they can make an informed opinion on what the district needs.

The OSFC is allowing communities with historic buildings more flexibility in remodeling their existing structure. What happens depends largely on cost and community wishes.

Nance said while school buildings are not the most important factor in whether a child

learns what he or she needs to know, the facilities that surround that child day in and day out during his or her school years is a consideration, nonetheless.

"Schools don't teach children; teachers teach children. But there is only so much you can do with 75-year-old buildings," Nance said.

Staff reporter Teresa Moore can be reached at 532-1445 ext. 25 or by e-mail at