Mantua Twp. – In most ways Mantua Township is probably very much like the majority of other cities, townships and villages going into the upcoming election season. Which is to say that one party advocates this, the other party advocates that. Regardless of who wins one hopes that there is a positive outcome and life goes on preferably a little bit better than before. It goes without saying that the single major issue that encompasses all other minor issues and squabbles in our township political arena is the saving of the Mantua Center School building for use as a community center. Because of all the facilities it has to offer—unlimited conference area, office space, gymnasium, food services, emergency shelter– this should be a no-brainer. Furthermore, the building is paid for, has been declared officially sound, and it is ready to use as is.
Folks, here are the facts in Mantua Township. This Save the School effort was begun 12 years ago by the then township trustees, one of whom was, and still is, Victor Grimm. According to Grimm, “The potential for the building was seen as unlimited; it was very near the township center. The building and location were great and it is built like a fortress.” Since that inception several trustees have come and gone. Grimm is the remaining trustee who initially proposed and started this action, and he is now determined to see it through despite setbacks from various opposing politicians, naysayers, and township wannabees that have slowed down and complicated the process.
But here is an overriding factor. The predominant opinion, as indicated by at least three legitimate polls conducted over the past few years sampling hundreds of residents has indicated overwhelming community support for not only saving the school building but developing it as a community center, a resource for all residents. Mantua Township is small town USA. Many of the families that live here can trace back their histories 150 to 200 years or more. Many of the houses and buildings surrounding the school are likewise that old. In talking with the residents you quickly see and hear a sense of pride in this heritage and note that many/most of the houses and buildings are well preserved with pride. A great many of these township people went to Mantua Center School as did their fathers, mothers and forefathers. Some even graduated from it. It is an integral part of the community. There is great sentimentality attached to the building and the memories it harbors.
However, politics run deep in this community! Past slights and snubs are not easily forgotten. Some of the political opinions floated about “on the street” include selling the building to supposed developers waiting in the wings. If you read the social media websites and blogs concerning the township functioning or if you attend a trustee meeting you quickly become aware of some unrest and dissension concerning the school. With regularity a couple of habitually attending township residents have loudly voiced that they want it torn down or sold. One wonders where, when, and why this dissention all began. Their actual reasoning, even now, is unclear and not based on fact. Criticism has ranged from, for example manufactured controversies such as an excessive public tax burden to fomenting asbestos concerns, to claiming structural deficiencies. Interestingly, each and every criticism has been resoundingly discredited multiple times over. The actual tax burden, furnished by the township clerk ranges from 5.02% of the budget in 2013 to a mere less than 1% of this year’s budget. All of this animosity apparently began as a political grudge match between Grimm and shall we say unnamed community members.
A third faction that has entered the fray and pushed hard for saving the school is the Mantua Restoration Society– MaRSI. This is an extremely civic minded group of progressive local citizens made up of the likes of lawyers, retired school teachers, past trustees, builders, business men and involved township residents that organized, developed, and have tirelessly pushed forward the agenda of saving the school and making it into a viable self-sustaining community center for all the residents of the township. MaRSI is currently led by Carole Pollard who has spearheaded the movement whether from within the ranks or now from the leadership position. Pollard has established herself as a dynamic mover who can make things happen.
In 2014 the Township Trustees yielded to the community pressure to save the school by appointing several committees to address the school situation. The committees are: 1) the Building Assessment Committee, 2) Building Utilization Committee, 3) the Grant and Funding Committee, 4) the Volunteers Committee. This committee system was initially proposed by Todd Peetz, Director of Portage County Regional Planning in an effort to move forward and utilize the building. Hal Stamm, a licensed civil engineer and member of the Building Assessment Committee, led the way in the structural analysis of the building. It has now been officially determined that Mantua Center School is indeed structurally safe and basically built like a fortress, putting to rest a topic that has been the focus of debate in recent years.
The School Utilization committee presented and elaborated upon at least 16 possible ways to utilize the building including these most relevant uses:
1. Community center, senior center, after school activities, lending library, party rooms
2. Emergency Shelter—FEMA involvement. This should be a no brainer given the weather related emergencies that have recently afflicted our nation.
3. Conference facilities available for rental to all
4. Consignment shop(s), merchandise provided by local residents/artisans
5. Sheriff outpost, break room
6. Jobs and Family Services satellite offices
7. Service organizations, boy scouts, meals on wheels, local clubs, educational uses, local campus, day care
8. Class rooms, music, yoga, student mentoring
9. Township offices, fireproof record storage
10. Rent paying businesses like dance studios, insurance agencies.
At least one of the Mantua Township Trustees and the Mantua Restoration Society (MaRSI) are working hard to begin restoring the historic building “We now have an occupancy permit for the whole building,” said Trustee Vic Grimm. “This is an enormous step forward.”
The Mantua Restoration Society has worked together with the Grants and Funding committee and applied for grants to add an elevator to the building, increase lighting and facilities to the parking lot, and add new energy saving windows. There has been much community support for this Save the School effort (as in $$$$) and at this date the group is very near the goal of $130,000 to begin work on installing an elevator in the school to make it fully accessible on the upper floors.
All the combined efforts by the residents, the committees and MaRSI, have not gone unnoticed. State Senator Ecklund lauded the efforts in a personal visit to the school and said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for pie in the sky. It is there!”
As we approach this fall election season it is crucial that the Mantua Township residents get out and vote for the candidate that will support this save the school effort and move this township forward. Just as it has for the past 112 years the Mantua Center School continues to anchor the community and provides a bright future for the township.