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Mon City council meeting evolves into Ringgold building discussion

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 1:22 a.m.

MONONGAHELA – City council's meeting Wednesday nearly turned into a Ringgold School Board meeting.

City officials implored Ringgold directors to reopen the “community schools” – Monongahela and Donora elementary centers.

However, Ringgold board President Mary Ann Bulko said it's a “done deal” that the district will instead build a middle school on the Carroll Township campus where the high school is located.

School directors Chuck and Bob Smith along with Bulko took turns debating the merits of renovating the two former elementary centers to house grades five through eight as opposed to building a middle school. Director Gene Kennedy also attended, but did not speak.

Councilman Tom Caudill, who served as principal of both elementary buildings at varying times during his long tenure with Ringgold, said city officials want MEC to be reopened.

Chuck Smith described the closing of community schools as the “downfall of the Ringgold School District.” He said the Mt. Lebanon School District's high test scores can be attributed to “environmental factors.”

“The one thing Mt. Lebanon did was keep their community schools,” Chuck Smith said. “We got away from our community schools.”

Chuck Smith called the planned middle school “a big box school.”

Caudill encouraged the school board to renovate existing buildings, saying taxpayers cannot afford for the district to build new structures.

Councilman Ken Kulak said that, culturally, the best solution is to reopen MEC and DEC.

But Bulko said the board has voted, and the issue has been decided.

“The time for this rhetoric and this fight was when they were closed,” Bulko said of the former elementary centers.

Bulko said MEC and DEC have serious issues that would require the structures to be gutted.

“To me, as an architect, at the end of the day you have this wonderful shell,” Kulak said.

Bulko said she attended the Monongahela meeting hoping for support from city officials. She finally invited them to attend the school board's facilities committee meeting Monday night.

“The bottom line is this board voted to build and that's the direction were going in,” Bulko said. “The people said make a decision and do it. They could not stand being in limbo.”

Bulko said district officials are seeking public or private interest in the MEC and DEC buildings as a way to put them back on the tax rolls.

Bob Smith encouraged the board to delay moving forward with construction until after the school board elections are held this year.

Those elections would serve as a referendum on the buildings issue, with the voters having the last say, Bob Smith said.

“This council urges you to reopen MEC and DEC,” Caudill said.

“It's already over,” Bulko replied.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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