by Jonathan Weaver
Armstrong Junior-Senior High will open this fall, and Ford City Junior-Senior High, Kittanning Junior High and Kittanning Senior High will close in about five months.
But, middle Armstrong County’s economic future might depend on what happens to the three schools after they close.
During an Armstrong School District public hearing on the topic last night, Solicitor (and moderator) Lee Price said all suggestions are welcome.
“If anybody has any suggestions or proposals on what should occur with these three properties, they’re welcome to submit them in writing to the school board,” Price said. “I know that they’re open to any suggestions about what should be done. There has been no decision to tear down any building.”
Andrew Tylinski lives across from the current Ford City Junior-Senior High parking lot.
“I just hope that somebody – whether in the community or the (school) board can come up with some sort of idea to reuse the buildings or just get rid of it,” Tylinski said. “My biggest fear is that it will become a blighted property – a total menace to the town and the people around it.”
Board Director Paul Lobby – a Ford City graduate – said developers have expressed interest in the property since being designed Keystone Opportunity Zones and offering tax relief.
“We, along with the County, Planning Commission, Industrial Development, Senator White, have been active trying to do something that will turn these facilities into something productive for the community,” Lobby said.
Ford City Planning Commission Member Tyson Klukan asked the cost to tear down the schools. While he waits for a written response to that and other questions, he and other members hope for a meeting with county or school officials.
“We want to see economic development in Ford City and the county alone. It’s not just about Ford City – it’s about the region,” Klukan said. “It’s going to take all of us together to get a solid, concrete plan and move forward.”
Ford City Borough Manager Eden Ratliff also read some questions from Mayor Marc Mantini, including board directors’ thoughts on what can be done with the existing buildings
After a 10 minute recess due to an incorrect starting time listed in another publication Wednesday, Ford City Councilman Eugene Banks read a request from a resident proposing one of the buildings being converted into a community college or a learning center – such as the Bidwell Cultural and Training Center in Pittsburgh.
Banks’ sons – Eugene, Jr. and Jonathan – attended courses at the training center and studied culinary and security, respectively.
“And they have courses you don’t see in a normal college – like glassblowing and dog grooming,” Banks said.
Kittanning Junior High Principal Kirk Lorigan – a Kittanning High graduate who attended the meeting with fellow principals James Rummel at Kittanning Senior High and Michael Cominos of Ford City – said, while faculty and staff are thinking about the transition and students have received River Hawks T-shirts, their main focus remains the next five months.
“A lot of our students at Kittanning Junior High are excited about the upcoming possibilities. We all have a lot of changes we’re going to see – the job as junior high principal is going to be similar, but any time there’s a new building, there are new responsibilities, new people to get to know – but ultimately, the students will be resilient, and the teachers will certainly do everything that is needed to so those kids can learn. That’s what it’s all about,” Lorigan said.
More than a dozen residents attended the public hearing at Lenape Elementary last night – about equal to the number of school district administrators, school board directors and principals.