Thursday, July 16, 2009

Landmark in Danger of Demolition

The building we now use as a middle school is actually 3 buildings joined together. The first and most grand was built - out in, what was then, the middle of nowhere - in 1904. An addition was tacked on to the west side around 1927, I think, and included "the pit" - then the final section was added on some decades later.

If you aren't able to attend school board meetings, you might not be aware that several companies were contacted to give a quote on tearing down the 1904 structure.

There has been talk for quite some time about what to do with the old building. It has been shuttered and neglected for many years. With no one required to walk through it on a regular basis, a leak in the roof was undiscovered until significant water damage had occured. Mold remediation in the affected areas has been estimated to cost over $25,000, while cleaning, painting, and other repairs to the building have been estimated at between $175,000 and $225,000 - a sum the school district simply does not have to spend on an old, unused structure.

The Ohio Revised Code allows a school district to "sell" an old building for a nominal fee to non-profit organizations that may be interested. Unfortunately, our local geneaology and historical group doesn't have enough money for those repairs, either, and I am not sure who else might be interested.

To get an idea of how salvaging an historic building can be done, we only need to look at Monclova, where volunteer labor under the direction of a prominent local contractor saved and restored their beautiful old school. Now it is the host to many community events, the YMCA operates a day care in one wing, and upper levels are rented to others for exercise classes, etc. It is now a thriving part of the community - and it's wonderful!

Our 1904 building was made possible by the founders of Swanton - some of whom remain prominent families in the community to this day. Its construction was of the highest quality and materials of the time, and little of its original grandeur has been lost - at least on the exterior.

The interior rooms, heating and electrical systems and other things need serious attention. But it remains a jewel in our town - even though it has been sealed off for many years. (Actually, our building is in MUCH better shape than that of the old Monclova school prior to its restoration!)

Anyone with a little vision can see how this wonderful old structure could again play an important role in our community- but it will take money and labor to bring it to fruition.

Is there anyone out there who is willing to try and save the 1904 building for posterity and community use? If we pooled our resources, money and otherwise, we could do it - together. But something must be done relatively soon if we are going to save it from the wrecking ball.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are You Good with Numbers?

Election rules are very detailed with strict deadlines to be followed. Time is fast running out for anyone interested in having their name on the November 2009 ballot for the position on the Swanton Board of Education.

For those considering tossing their hat into the ring (there will be 3 board positions to fill), here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help you decide whether or not to run for this office.

How do you make decisions in your personal life? For example, if you are single, how do you treat the forgetful waitress at your favorite restaurant? If you are married, do you prefer to maintain open and solid communication channels with your spouse or do you prefer to manipulate things behind the scenes? If you have children, do you make decisions with their ultimate well-being in mind or do you find yourself deciding by default, when they whine enough or complain enough that you give in to their immature demands just to shut them up? (it is appalling how many people "parent" this way)

How well do you get along with your extended family? Every family has a few folks that are difficult to get along with - how do you handle it? Do you avoid them and look for ways to keep them out of any decision making process, or do you include them even though you figure you probably won't see eye-to-eye on the issue? In other words, do you treat them fairly and with respect - even when they are arrogant and obstinate or bellicose? Have you ever worked with a group of people of disparate character traits or have you been somewhat isolated by owning your own business or confined to an office? Are you honest to the core, or are you willing to shade things just a bit to get your own way?

Those are interpersonal skills that can quickly come into play in a school board position. But there are other skills that are also very important.

How much and how well do you read? That might seem like an odd thing to ask, but - trust me - there is a TON of reading that needs to be done each and every month if you expect to make informed and intelligent decisions that affect the district and its funds. Those who just hate to read might want to think twice about running for this office.

Do you balance your checkbook at home? Do you at least know HOW to balance your checkbook?

How do you handle your home expenses? Do you know how to live within your means or are you in debt up to your eyebrows? Have you ever planned ahead for a large expense so that when it came along you were able to pay for it - or did you just melt the plastic again?

The thing about being on a school board is that you are spending OTHER people's money - not just your own. You are on a board that has to spend millions of tax dollars very carefully so as to get the best result for our kids. And it is not as easy as it may look. There are many government mandates that come with directives - but no funding. Some expenses are able to be reined in without too much fuss, but others are completely out of your control, such as the price of gas or electricity.

Huge and unexpected expenses might hit - which is one reason the state requires a certain percentage level of carry-over funds to be maintained. Dipping too far into that state-mandated cushion is what put our district into "fiscal caution" several years ago. Not a good place to be.

And EVERYBODY knows how to do your job better than You! Oh yes! Make no mistake - every single person in this district has an opinion on how things should be done, and very few are hesitant to share that opinion with you in the most graphic terms. Never mind that they might not have all the facts at their disposal like you do - they know exactly what needs to be done, and get quite angry if you don't agree.

Matter of fact, there have been some quality people in this position who refused to run for a second term because they had taken so much abuse when they were in office from those they had considered to be friends.

Will you continue to feel comfortable shopping at the local Kroger after you're in office, or will you find yourself driving just a bit further to get groceries so as to avoid the possible keying of your car and other small acts of vandalism from your faithful constituents?

Will you be upset when your kids come home from school with the latest angry gossip from their friends about the stupid decision made by the board? Will you take it in stride when someone rigs a bomb in your mailbox? (yes - all of these things have happened)

Do you have a personal agenda that you believe you can institute by getting elected to the school board? Have any axes to grind? Remember: you will be only one vote out of five. Mighty hard to push through an agenda alone.

All potential candidates should think carefully about their reasons for running for a school board position. We need good people!! I don't want to scare anyone - but it is important for those considering placing their name on the ballot to know these things.

You need to be a good reader. You need to be good with numbers and financial reports and forecasting. You need to be good with people, even those that strongly disagree with you.

Just remember: even Superman had people crabbing about him! You will never be able to please everyone at once - most times, there will be many more annoyed with you than not. And the entire district depends on you, so you can't cater to one group over another. Your responsibility is to the entire district. Nothing less.

So - after considering all of that - are you interested? We could use 3 good people!!

No Slacking Off in the Summer!

Just because the busses aren't running, and classes aren't in session doesn't mean our buildings or staff are slacking off!

The Treasurer's office has fiscal year-end reporting to finalize and submit. Administrators huddle over reports and paperwork, making numerous decisions that will affect the up-coming school year.

There is a TON of deep cleaning and painting and other maintenance projects that surge into high gear once the kids have gone off on their summer vacations.

There may not be children in the hallways, but the buildings are far from silent!

It's already the 15th of July - summer break is half over. Already there are newspaper inserts talking about "Back to School" offers. Time flies by all too quickly.