The Portage County Regional Planning Commission was asked by the Township to solicit community wants and needs regarding the potential renovation of the Mantua Center School property. The school, which was build in 1914, operated in that capacity until its closure in the early 2000s, at which time Township Trustees voted to purchase the building. Tentative plans for the structure included housing Township administrative offices, a potential community center, and for potential facility rental opportunities. For nearly 10 years, the Township has owned the structure. During much of that time, the building has remained vacant. In recent years, it has been used as Township administrative offices, and as both a community center and for event rental on a limited basis, but has been a point of contention among residents for much of the time it has been owned by the Township.
Given that fact, it was decided that as a third-party, the Regional Planning Commission (RPC), would be in a better position to ascertain the needs and uses of the structure through a series of community meetings, surveys among those who do business in the area, and potential social service organizations within the county.
“First and foremost,” remarked Trustee John Festa, “the Trustees were determined from the start to have the Mantua Center School Rehabilitation Project open and transparent in every respect. Not only did we desire the community’s full participation, we encouraged it as well. Most importantly, the Trustees fully understand; this is the peoples’ building, they absolutely should be afforded every opportunity for their voices to be heard and their money wisely spent”.
As a part of the RPC project, two community meetings were held, in October 2013 and in January 2014, to give residents an opportunity to voice concerns about the structure, and to suggest ideal uses. The Mantua-Shalerville Chamber of Commerce members were asked in person in November 2013 and via an online survey in February 2014, to provide their input as well. Although the online survey was mistakenly made available to a larger audience, the survey results were in line with the findings from the other sources. In addition, area realtors, local colleges, and social service agencies were contacted with regard to possible use of the building.
In the end, the RPC concluded, “The school building sitting mostly vacant is not serving the community and is costing the Township valuable resources. Unquestionably, this has become a divisive issue in the community.” The report continues, “As a long-time landmark, being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the restoration of the school building should be and can still be a rallying point in the community.”
When asked to comment about the report issued by the, Trustee Jason Carlton said, “Despite the challenges, they did a great job. The report was an excellent first step.” Trustee Victor Grimm agreed, continuing, “It provided decent recommendations — things like looking into available grant opportunities and working with volunteers to complete some of the work needed.” To see the full report from the Portage County Regional Planning Commission, visit the Township’s website mantuatownshipohio.gov.
As of now, future steps for the Mantua Center School have not yet been identified — look for special meetings to be held to discuss the topic at length in the near future. As of now, the school is open to the public each Tuesday for ‘Community at the Center,’ when the building is open from 9 am to 4 pm.