Mantua Restoration Society raising funds for Center School with cautious optimism on progress

Image of a 1914 school in Mantua, Ohio, with several activists standing in front
Front row left to right: Carole Pollard, Lynn Harvey Back row left to right: Terri Vechery, Mark Hall, Nora Brant. Gina Schlegel/The Portager

The Mantua Restoration Society, which has tried for years to renovate the old school, is fundraising and saving up money in anticipation of the day township trustees finally let them undertake a large project.

They recently announced on Facebook a series of fundraising brunches on the fourth Sunday of March, April and May from noon to 2 p.m. at the annex of the Mantua Center School building. 

“Basically, what we’re doing is putting money into our checking account so that we will be able to pay for something that we and the trustees agree would be worthwhile,” said Carole Pollard, vice president of the society. “And on our end of things, it has to be tangible brick and mortar-type things.”

Pollard said the society isn’t interested in paying for more proposals to submit to the township trustees, especially after township leaders repeatedly rejected plans to renovate the school’s first floor.

“We want to make contributions to things that will last, right? We were asked if we would pay for a proposal. And I said, ‘No,’” Pollard said. “We could pay for a proposal. It would cost money, it would take money away that we have worked hard to earn. And then [the trustees] could say, ‘Oh, we don’t like this proposal, we’re not going to do it.’”

When reached by phone by The Portager, Trustee Chair John Festa declined to comment on anything related to the school except during board meetings. 

At a meeting on March 3, trustees invited CT Consultants architect Bill Gallagher to “analyze the building and see what could be done with it,” Pollard said. 

This is not the first time the township has had CT Consultants look at the building and propose renovations. In August, they asked wastewater engineer Rich Iafelice to evaluate how to connect the sewers of the township’s four historical buildings to the county’s main lines.

Gallagher said in his presentation at the meeting that while the current use of the building — where the main structure is for storage while the addition is used as a place of assembly — is “fine as is,” if the trustees wanted to make any renovations they would have to make it comply with state and county building codes.

One way to rectify that, Gallagher said, was to convert the whole building to a place of assembly. But the laundry list of renovations in order to achieve that ranges from installing a water tower outside for a fire suppression system to ripping out and building new staircases. Another way would be to create a firewall between the main building and the addition, but that too would come at a cost. 

“The full-out renovation and upgrades for a change of use of the building would cost $4 million,” Pollard said. “Using the building essentially as is, however, would not cost anything like that much.”

If the trustees wanted to rent out portions of the building to businesses, it’d be even more expensive.

“When I say use the building [as is], I’m saying for municipal use purely. You’re the owner, you own the building,” Gallagher said at the meeting, referring to the trustees. “If you become a landlord, that’s when you look at life safety issues, your tenants that are in the building, and the people coming into that building are now possibly at risk.”

Pollard said whatever option they go with, it’s going to cost more money than they have on hand, or could pull together through fundraisers. 

“So the push from the trustees for about a year now has been that we just can’t do it unless we pass a levy,” Pollard said. “We are fearful about whether the levy would work. We believe, given the current climate in the country, inflation and gas prices, that a levee would fail, and that the failure would be taken by the trustees to mean that the residents don’t want the school.” 

Pollard says the trustees have not yet decided what they want to do with the school following Gallagher’s presentation. While she said the Mantua Restoration Society left that meeting feeling disheartened, she doesn’t think progress on the school is being stonewalled.

“Taking a look at the things that could be done and need to be done with expert advice, that’s progress,” Pollard said. “That has to be considered progress, in spite of how the Restoration Society members walked out of the meeting feeling.”

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Wyatt Loy is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.