Jumping in with ideas may help solve school levy issues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ironton businessman Rob Slagel probably has enough things to do without worrying over how to get a school bond levy passed.

But Slagel, a husband and father who also runs several successful businesses, is worried about the levy.

&#8220I want the school levy to pass more than anybody,” he said after Thursday's meeting of the Ironton Board of Education.

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Slagel, a member of the Ironton Port Authority, proposed a couple of ideas at the meeting that was called to solicit ideas on an $18 million school bond levy, the first passage attempt failed earlier this month.

At the center of the split vote sits the Ironton High School building, called historic by some who see its &#8220history” as the thousands of graduates who graced the building's halls as small &#8220historical” moments.

The initial plan proposed by the school board called for the demolition of the early 1920s structure to make way for a new high school to be built at the site.

The Ironton Port Authority tossed out a couple of ideas that might save the current high school building and provide for a new high school.

The group suggested two options. One called for the construction of a new high school building beside the current one. The current high school building could be, port authority members said, divvied up through public-private partnerships for a number of uses. Included among those could be use of the auditorium by either community groups and/or nearby Ohio University Southern programs. In addition, other areas of the high school could be leased to businesses for office space or, perhaps, the Ashland, Ky., YMCA to create an Ironton location.

The second option offered, and perhaps the most interesting, would require some finagling. If the port authority could convince Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell, Ky., to donate the former River Valley Health Systems property, a new school (or two schools) could be build on that property.

The port authority is investigating to see if the hospital would be amenable to the plan and where funds could be located to cover the costs of the demolition of the old hospital.

While at first, such a plan may seem too complicated to pull off, it may not be.

OLBH needs to get rid of the hospital and if it could figure out a way to do so which would also ensure that the site isn't reopened for medical (read, competitive) uses; the hospital has much to gain in such a partnership.

Slagel and Ironton School Superintendent Dean Nance met Friday with OLBH CEO Mark Gordon to discuss the matter.

&#8220Mark Gordon was very cooperative,” Slagel said. &#8220(OLBH) seemed very amenable to do whatever it could to get us the property.

&#8220I think, based on our meeting Friday, the port authority would continue to pursue it,” Slagel said. &#8220And if it's not needed for the Ironton schools, then we'll use it for other economic development.”

Interestingly, Nance had been meeting with Gordon to discuss the former River Valley property for a couple of months, he said Friday, but had not made those meetings known until the port authority raised the notion on Thursday night.

While obviously, the port authority's proposals still have lots of &#8220what if” scenarios, the fact that the group stepped forward shows the kind of leadership needed in this matter.

One of the most disheartening moments at Thursday night's meeting intended to seek new input was when someone directed a negative question at the port authority's possible proposals.

&#8220Where were you nine months ago?” the person asked.

That kind of unfair shot basically said, &#8220It's too late now” which went directly against the meeting's purpose.

The port authority had barely been formed when the issues first came up and in the purest sense; the matter isn't really something in which the port authority should have to become involved. Fortunately, the group had the nerve to step forward and at least make a few proposals.

&#8220I want what's best for the kids,” Slagel said, about why he stepped forward.

If more people shared his thought, maybe the community will unite enough to get a levy - in some form or fashion - passed.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.