by Laura Bednar
Jan. 16 board of education meeting
After community members lobbied for the Independence High wrestling team to have its own space for practices and matches, the board of education said it would be a priority.
The need for a wrestling room has been discussed for years, according to Bryan Vitron, a parent of a high school wrestler.
“I’m concerned about the lack of progress towards a wrestling room over the last four years,” he said, adding that the team uses the city’s old recreation center, fieldhouse and the middle school cafeteria, and they all have issues.
“We talk about keeping kids in the district; they need a facility,” said Vitron. He added that the wrestling team was bumped from the high school gymnasium during a regional competition for a basketball game. “We feel disrespected,” he said.
Superintendent Ben Hegedish said he spoke with wrestling coach Ken DeAngelis; both are working on a temporary and permanent solution. “Lack of progress does not mean lack of planning,” said Hegedish.
GPD Group engineering firm is analyzing three potential sites for a wrestling room: above the locker room building at the football stadium, next to the locker rooms as a separate building, or on the side of the fieldhouse. Assistant Superintendent Tom Dreiling said if the room was built next to the fieldhouse, it could be considered a shared use facility between the city and schools, because it would be built on city property.
Vitron asked what involvement the school would have if a wrestling facility were privately funded. Dreiling said outside entities that fund projects have more control in planning. Vitron asked if something could be put in writing to ensure the wrestling room remains a priority, regardless of who is in the administration or on the board.
Hegedish said he could propose a resolution to approve a space when a location is chosen.
“I would like to process more urgently,’’ said board President Tony Avila. “If we are going to build on city property, we need to tell the city our intent right away.”
Hegedish said there would be a board meeting after GPD returns its findings, and the wrestling community would be invited.
An anonymous resident family is donating $350,000 to construct new home bleachers at the high school stadium. Dreiling said new bleachers have been on the radar for several years, and the idea was explored after new visitors stands were constructed in 2014. The family wants the bleachers installed before the fall sports season.
“I’m grateful to the family, but it’s an injustice to students and families not to put the wrestling room at the top of our list,” said board Vice President Carrie Sears, adding that she doesn’t want to lose the wrestling coach due to lack of a facility.
Board member Lynne Laski said the board should take into consideration the number of people the bleacher project would benefit in contrast to the wrestling room.
“I don’t think this donation would exclude, hinder or change any of our wrestling room planning,” said Hegedish.
At a Feb. 1 special meeting, the board approved contracts with Dant Clayton Corporation and North Coast Concrete for bleacher installation and foundation work, respectively.
Another resident family, also choosing to remain anonymous, is donating demolition services and removing the old bleachers.
The remaining total cost after both donations, according to Dreiling, is $331,500, which includes site testing, purchase and installation of bleachers, concrete and a new pressbox.
Hegedish said the money will come from the district’s permanent improvement fund. Treasurer Eric Koehler said the PI fund balance is roughly $240,000, and another $300,000 is projected to come from tax collections.
“Bleachers are on our list of needs,” said Hegedish, adding that the new bleachers will be ADA compliant and include a senior citizen section.
Dreiling allotted two weeks for demolition this spring. He said the goal is to have Dant Clayton Corporation begin work in June with a final completion date of Aug. 1.
During the board’s roundtable discussion, Avila said he wanted a third school resource officer. Laski said the primary school has its own and the middle school and high school sharing an officer “didn’t seem to be a bad situation.”
Board member Ron Bernstein was in favor of a third SRO, saying he wants to take every precaution.
Hegedish said another full-time SRO would cost roughly $125,000 a year. The other option is offering a shift of 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. for any officer to pick up during the week, which Hegedish estimated at $60,000-$75,000 a year. He said he would discuss it with Mayor Greg Kurtz and Police Chief Robert Butler.
Sears asked what the board’s policy was on transgender bathrooms. Hegedish said the district follows the opinion of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that students can use the bathroom with which they identify.
Sears said she wants the board to create a policy to “protect all students.” She referenced students whose gender identity correlates with their biological sex who may be uncomfortable using a bathroom with a transgender student.
Hegedish said the board could create its own policy but it is subject to challenge in court. He noted a case in which parents of children whose gender identity and biological sex align sued the Bethel Local School District over allowing transgender students to use the bathroom with which they identify.
The judge assigned to the case dismissed it. Laski said creating policy that differs from federal and state law could open up the district to lawsuits and the board should wait for state legislature. Hegedish said he would speak to the Anthony Wayne Local Schools superintendent about their bathroom policy. ∞