PARMA, Ohio (WJW) – The Parma City School District (PCSD) called an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the discovery of a potential opportunity to change the future for Parma Senior High School.
Seven Hills Mayor Anthony Biasiotta discovered a waiver with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), that could allow the school to be renovated under a stipulation that was unknown to PCSD.
“I want to see better facilities for our children,” Biasiotta said. “I want to see an operating levy passed for our teachers and maintain curriculum, but if we don’t give honest and serious consideration to new things that come light, that is puts everything in jeopardy, in my opinion. Let’s get behind the schools, take a step back, give it the due diligence it deserves before making any irrevocable decisions.”
Superintendent Charles Smialek said an email that was sent in September 2018 contained information about the waiver, but it was buried under attachments and was essentially overlooked.
“I can promise you I never saw it,” he said during the meeting. “I can promise you I never had a conversation about it. I can promise you that the first time that I ever heard of a waiver was through a conversation with our friend in Seven Hills had with a former board member, who then relayed it to me.”
A section of the waiver reads:
“The Commission, by resolution dated February 18, 1999, established a threshold to replace rather than repair or reconstruct CFAP Projects. When the cost of renovating a school facility exceeds two-thirds the cost of replacing the facility, the Commission will recommend a new facility or the population of the existing facility will be assigned to another facility.
If a School District determines that a school facility has special historical value, or for other good cause, a School District may request the Commission to evaluate a plan to renovate such facility. The Commission’s evaluation of a request by a School District to renovate such a facility will be based upon two factors: 1) whether the facility can be renovated to an adequate standard for future use for classroom facilities and 2) whether the facility can be operationally efficient. The Commission may approve renovations that cost in excess of two-thirds the cost of replacing the facility, but not in an amount exceeding the cost of a new correctly sized facility.”
PCSD has since closed Parma Senior with plans to have it demolished. It is facing a $25.3 million deficit in 2027 with no new operating money secured.
Smialek said being financially responsible has been one of his top goals as superintendent, so he wanted to be fully transparent with taxpayers in comparing figures and all possibilities.
“We thought it was important to show the facts and figures and how we’ve gotten to the point of demolition essentially, which we kind of stand on the precipice of,” he said.
Many in attendance were shocked at the discovery and couldn’t wait to share their thoughts.
“I’m very disappointed with the outcome of this money that was available, and no one knew about it,” one man said. “How could this possibly happen?”
“[Smialek] did not pick up the fact that there was money available, I mean that’s dereliction of duty,” another man said.
“We should not knock one brick out of this building until we know that we can turn this into the one high school,” another man said.
Now residents want the option to be explored in the hopes that the historic building could be saved.
“I think we were not told the truth and weren’t given all the information,” Parma resident Pat Nemeth said. “I think the renovation idea should definitely be explored. I think the board needs to come back, they have a year to close this school and tear it down. They can let it sit here for a year. And then let’s look at all of this, and then ask the people what they want.”
Smialek said the cost of the renovation would be very similar, if not more, due to planning and general building costs amid inflation.
“The waiver doesn’t make anything free, all it means is that you can apply state money to renovation instead of just rebuild, which hadn’t been our previous understanding,” Smialek said. “So yeah, you would still have to pass a bond issue.”
The ultimate deadline to decide on demolition is June 2024.
FOX 8 will continue to follow this story.