Ravenna seeks answer to $2 million question

By Micah Panczyk Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The venture would likely cost between $27 million and $30 million and would require voters to ratify a bond issue. The $2 million campaign would cover the costs of building eight tennis courts, a cross-country course, a track, several ballfields and a football stadium on 88 acres just south of Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna.

The district intends to begin construction on the projects as early as June 1997 and complete them by the fall if 1999, when construction of the school itself could begin.

But in a district where Superintendent Philip Warner said the average annual household income is about $24,000, the question of whether the district can raise $2 million looms.

"I know the thought of raising $2 million sounds a bit intimidating," he said. "But with some creating thinking and community involvement I'm confident we can generate this kind of money."

"We need a qualified person to conduct this thing," Warner said. "We need someone who could competently devise and execute an appropriate fundraising plan."

Particular points along this fundraising course, however, are already defined. Among these is establishing an educational foundation that would allow those interested to make tax-exempt donations. Bylaws for the foundation will be submitted for approval to the state attorney general's office pending approval by the Board of Education, which will consider them Dec. 15.

Another strategy is "estate planning," which would allow people to make Ravenna schools the beneficiary of their life insurance policies.

"There are community groups in northeast Ohio that have had excellent success generating large sums of money for proposed services," he added. "And school districts not unlike Ravenna have witnessed similar results."

In this decade, the East Canton Village Rotary Club raised in a village of roughly 2,000 residents some $600,000 to build a new community center, Warner said. In addition, Cuyahoga Falls schools raised $500,000 to construct an eight-lane, all-weather track and Buckeye Central schools raised $400,000 for construction of a field house, he said.

Ravenna's emerging campaign is encouraged by a $20,000 pledge from the Ravenna Area Rotary Club _ money earmarked for the construction of a baseball field, Warner said. In addition, a second civic club may try to match that sum by way of a separate campaign, he said.

The district has about $180,000 in royalties derived from an oil and gas well previously tapped on the Chestnut Street property. These funds will be used to grade that property and construct a roadway to it. In addition, this money will fund the construction of a parking lot.

Warner also said that Robinson Memorial is "strongly interested" in combining efforts to build a cross-country field and a track that would add to the hospital's wellness program.

In order to save money, the district will try to enlist the service of the community's skilled laborers _ workers who could assist in bricklaying and property grading, for example.

"We're really hoping to get the community involved," Warner said. "In the end, these facilities will serve the community at large."

Other fundraising ideas the district is considering include selling lifetime seats to what would be a new football stadium and selling the Walnut Street lot where Gilcrest Stadium stands. The parcel is zoned industrial, Warner said, and might be of interest to companies looking to open shop in Portage County.

The Ravenna School District will not be able to meet the demands it faces in the next three to five years without a significant facilities expansion, Warner said. At present, there are about 800 lots being prepared for homes within the area the district serves, he said previously. The district serves roughly 3,400 students, a figure that would jump to 4,200 if each new home brought one new student, a "conservative" estimate, he said.

Warner is a finalist for a superintendent's position in the Revere School District in Summit County.

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