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Mantua Center School Community Center Transformation Moving Along

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Mantua – On Thursday, October 6 the Mantua Township Trustees played to a packed house as the community once again came together in an impromptu move to ask for an update on the progress being made on the Mantua Center School Community Center.  Close to 40 people crowded into the meeting to ask questions, get updates on the elevator installation progress, the status of the electrical work bid being accepted to facilitate the elevator, and basically wanting to know exactly when the building would become fully functional and openly available to the community and potential tenants wanting to rent space. This project has a history of political infighting and the community wants the school transformation to move forward. During the past 6 months there have been some delays experienced in the starting of the elevator project and the electrical upgrades. Attention that was diverted to the elevator project has been refocused on the master plan for the building upgrades. Various committees that have been formed needed to know the status of, and reasons for, the delays.

Right now the township clerk has her offices in the building, the zoning inspector and cemetery sexton have their offices and records there and the trustees have their mailboxes there as well.  The clothing give-away that had been operating out of the Mantua Center Christian Church has become the first long-term rental.  The giveaway’s two rooms are packed with items.  The gymnasium/annex is being rented for everything from sports practice to funeral lunches to the first American Legion soup suppers.  Attendance has nearly doubled since that event relocated to the spacious facility.   As with any large project, it sometimes seems as if things have come to a slowdown and many of the various committees that have worked on this project require an updating of progress.

Trustee Vic Grimm noted that, indeed, there have been some delays at the state level concerning the actual release of the funding for the elevator, basically at State Senator Ecklund s office. This is likely a procedural quirk of dealing with the state bureaucracy. Trustee Jason Carlton asked if there are any deadlines approaching. Grimm noted that extensions have been granted and likely another will be needed because of bureaucratic red tape slowing down the funding.  In terms of the electrical work, Grimm said that on Tuesday October 11, there will be a walk-through by the electrical contractor to examine the electrical work needed for the elevator.  Four contractors bid on the work ranging from a high of $53,000 to mid-range of $30,000 to a low of about $26,865.  The electrical work is anticipated to begin soon.

Historically the building was purchased by the township trustees, then spearheaded by Vic Grimm, about 12 years ago.  At the time the Crestwood schools were consolidating all the elementary schools into a central location and the building became available. It was offered to the trustees at an extremely reasonable price. Grimm and the other trustees saw the possibilities and purchased it. The building even then was declared sound and usable, and could have been a source of income, but local politics prevented that.  Over the next 8 or 9 years the building unfortunately sat pretty much unused while local politicos argued points, purposes, and directions. Since 2010 the Mantua Restoration Society Inc. made it their purpose to get things moving under the leadership of Carole Pollard and a dedicated group of others. The county was asked to, and did supply, expertise for developing the project under the advice of Todd Peetz, Director of Portage County Regional Planning.

Initially Peetz recommended forming several committees to start the process.  They were the Building Assessment Committee, the Utilization Committee, the Grant and Funding Committee, and the Volunteer Committee.  All began working toward the goal of making the building into a community center. This was the start of the initial master plan as called for by the trustees.

This past year several local churches have become involved in the ongoing transformation, including Reverend Jeff Jackson, of the Hilltop Christian Church, and Reverend Chad Delaney of the Mantua Center Christian Church. Jackson, at the October 6 meeting, acted as spokesman and leader of the coalition to keep the project moving forward.  Much work has been going on behind the scenes to keep the project rolling.

The Building Utilization Committee has met once again and reiterated the outlined uses.  The newly formed grassroots Community Center Task F   orce will expand the recommendations of the utilization committee with the intention of creating a sustainable community center.  Aiding in these endeavors is Benton Stull, an intern working with the two churches and the Mantua Restoration Society.   Terri Vechery of the Grants and Funding Committee noted: “Sustainability is an issue that comes up again and again.  How will the building pay for itself and get the money for various improvements?”  Vechery notes that “sustainability starts with, actually having the center functioning.  Once the plan is in action, then many, many grants can be applied for.” Jeff Jackson feels that it is now time to reconvene the original committees to finalize the master plan.  The new task force has proposed that there should be a central meeting area within the building, a practical space available to the community at large.  One of the many issues that have come up is what should be the cost of rental of the facilities. There has been some conferring with other such facilities to get an idea of what this should be.  A central theme echoed by many members of the groups working to create the community center is that the building can and should be used now as is, because it has been found to be sound and safe and useable. Officially using the facility will then facilitate applying for many grants. The questions they would like posed to the trustees are: 1) since the head of the Portage County Building Department considers the building usable, why is it not now being fully used? 2) when will this happen, 3) what are the politics behind possible stalling moves?

Generally, there is a strong sense that things are moving forward and optimism is being voiced not just by the project backers but also by at least two of the trustees.  As Jason Carlton noted, “My feeling is that our Historical Society will be much better served in the Center School facility because of the elevator access. Currently it is housed in the upper floor of the Township Hall which necessitates a long narrow stairway climb that is increasingly difficult for more senior people.” Carlton further reinforced this forward momentum, saying, “At this point let’s get Todd Peetz back as a facilitator of a special meeting of the committees to resume going forward.”   Jason’s first campaign promise 7 years ago was that he would “work to get the old Mantua Center School open to the public (has been sitting idle for over 5 years since purchase)!”  It looks as though the time has come for that promise to be made a reality.  Jason, as a trustee, needs to set the meetings in motion and finalize the master plan.

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Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.