Make no mistake, the whole initiative to Save the Mantua Center School has divided the current township trustees—split them three ways as to what to do with the old school building. This not a new development either, because historically there has been much mud-slinging since the purchase of the school in 2004. The community has demonstrated overwhelming support for saving the school and making it into a community center. Trustee Vic Grimm, was the one who saw to it that the building was purchased in the first place and is, of course advocating strongly for its use as a community center, a center of township government and more. Another, newer trustee John Festa, who is up for re-election this fall, seems ardently opposed to saving the school, and apparently has been, if you believe the words of many various committee members, actively impeding all the committees. He has, for example, slowed down the process by demanding inordinately long periods of time between meetings so that “the public will be informed”, making it difficult for continuity and committee members to do their jobs. Most recently he has e-mailed to all involved, including the Director of Portage County Regional Planning Commission Todd Peetz, that he is upset that the sub committees have been meeting together and “intertwining” and he is ready to step in and stop this kind of thing from happening.
To quote Festa verbatim on March 5, 20015, in an e-mail to all various committee members: … “I am once again concerned about the direction the committees are taking. It seems to me, there is an overreach of responsibilities by some and the lines between them are becoming blurred & unrecognizable… Never was it intended for any of the committees to become intertwined with each other… (Mr. Peetz), could you please look into this for me? That is, if you feel it’s part of your duties as Facilitator. If not, then should we consider it part of the Trustees duties as managers to address? If so, I will.”
One wonders if Mr. Festa couldn’t be any more blatant about his motivation about control. The third trustee, Jason Carleton, also a newcomer to the township government scene, is in the middle. The issue has become so heated that outspoken zoning board members, for example, have been non-renewed, —not reappointed by vote of the trustees. This is an almost unheard of action by township trustees who most often have great difficulty filling volunteer board positions. Now other various board members fear the same fate. Apparently, you cannot disagree with trustees in Mantua Township. None of this has gone unnoticed though. It is a fact that people have recently made trips down to the Board of Elections to enquire about and begin the process of recall of trustees. To complicate matters even more, a sort of behind-the-scenes dark figure-often referred to as the unofficial, self appointed “Mayor of Mantua Township” looms large in all the gossip, street talk and township meetings. To settle a grudge, this person has apparently publically stated (verified by several) that he will see to it that the school is torn down. When Trustee Grimm was asked in a public meeting on January 21, 2015 if this was so, he confirmed it.
Despite this political haggling, the township people, generations of whom have gone to that school, seem overwhelmingly to support developing the school, as is, into the township center. Yet as in most big business dealings, the situation seems rife with potential conflicts of interest and secondary gain for……….lots of people involved. The building committee is made up of several fine, upstanding local community contractors– residents who obviously and unequivocally have the best interests of the community in mind. This does not seem to be at issue. What does seem at issue is the process by which the whole effort to deal with the school has been waged. Just as with the other recent township functions this process has been controlled by one or two trustees, thereby excluding Trustee Grimm. According to Grimm, the building committee was picked solely by Festa. The builders/remodelers, the trustees, the Township, any of these could stand to make big money depending on which way this will go. And of course, no matter which way it goes, needless to say, the carpenters, the cement people, the roofers, the electrical contractor could make big money if they convince the building committee that the building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs to make it useable. It is also rumored that the building could be sold to a third party waiting in the wings who could develop it much like was done with the Village School Building in Mantua for a handsome profit. What seems to stand out most is that there has been little or no thought to potential conflicts of interest at any level and that there is much micro managing of the process by one trustee.
Interestingly, surveys done by non-partisan contractors confirm that the building is quite sound, in excellent condition, and is ready to be used. According to Grimm, in 2004, before the building was actually purchased the Portage County Building Department assessed it and approved it stating that it does meet ADA requirements (Americans with Disabilities Act). Likewise the Portage County Electrical Department assessed it and approved it citing only minimal, minor changes to be made. The building is usable as is. Everything works. It does not need anything. Dave Sommers Architects studied the building in 2004 and reported its condition as SOUND.
Skip Schweitzer, in addition to being a reporter/writer for The Villager, is an appointed member of the Utilization Committee for the Mantua Center School.