Jeff Jackson speaking to a group of 40 township members.
Jeff Jackson speaking to a group of 40 township members.

Mantua – “There is much community energy.  We have a need for a community center like this, to let people know what is available, and a connection to it.  Here is a place, a location where people can come in, find support for families, drug problems, a place for the Hiram College business incubator program, a space that could meet all kinds of different needs”.  So says Jeff Jackson, minister of Hilltop Christian Church and representing a group of ministers and clergy in our community. He and Chad Delaney of Mantua Center Christian Church both toured the building earlier and marveled at the potential available. The Reverend Ervin Green, Pastor of Hiram Christian Church, and his wife Betty, the Chaplain at Hiram College, also concurred that the Mantua Center School would be a wonderful location for a community center. The four ministers stressed that they are seeking a community center to benefit the community and not as a church function.

Last Tuesday the four committees representing fundraising, utilization, volunteers and building assessment met to discuss the progress on the building.  This was the first all committee meeting since last August. Dan Tillet, chair of the building assessment committee, presented a laundry list of projects including adding an HVAC unit, replacing the roof and front entrance and upgrading the plumbing.  He noted that are all in the works but the funding will come in increments. “All this cannot be done at once.  Yes, we’ve got some challenges ahead, but we can do this”, said Tillett.  “Typically, in this business some deadlines make themselves apparent and we work through them”, he added, referring to a new project schedule that has recently come to light.  Also what has come to light in this project is “mission creep”, that is, definitive costs keep changing and bureaucratic red tape tends to add requirements.  Eric Hummel of the Building committee downplayed the time factor noting that he sees no differences between this project and others in the works.  “It is likely that projects will need to be phased in as funding becomes available”, he said. The Building Assessment Committee will set the next all committees meeting, likely in the next several weeks to deal with approaching deadlines.

“This is a community effort,” noted trustee Jason Carleton. “It is a community building.  The trustees have really tried to stay on the outskirts of things and look in to allow the groups to talk amongst themselves and do a lot of the legwork”, he said.

Co-chair of the fundraising committee Terri Nielson noted she has applied for more than $400,000 in state capital funds through state senator John Ecklund since the group’s last meeting in August. Of course, that money is not guaranteed and even if it is granted, the funds won’t be available until 2017.  Todd Peets, director of Portage Regional Planning Commission, said the community doesn’t have that kind of time.  Mantua was recently granted a $75,000 Community Development Block Grant.   With that grant, those funds have to be used within the next ten months.

Nielson reported that the township currently has $110,000 for the elevator project to improve handicap accessibility.  That project is currently estimated to cost about $130,000.  She said they are looking to request another CDBG Grant from Portage County along with other sources of funding.  Also the township must upgrade the electrical system before installation.

The Mantua Center School was purchased initially to house township offices, for educational purposes, and for assembly. It is also recognized that the building has clear potential to be an emergency shelter.  The community center is the overall use of the building.  It is also recognized that there needs to be some type of business rental to cover a portion of the expenses required to support the building.

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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.