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Action lacking on Ringgold's zoning proposal

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Looking to improve their chances of selling the two shuttered elementary school buildings, members of the Ringgold School Board want the properties rezoned.

Last month, the board approved submitting letters to Donora and Monongahela respectively, asking that the former Donora and Monongahela elementary centers be rezoned multi-family residential.

The zoning changes would make the buildings more marketable, district officials said.

But the requests have not generated any action so far by Donora and Monongahela officials.

The governing bodies of both communities met during the past week, but neither took any action.

The Donora and Monongahela elementary centers were closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. At one time, the school board considered reopening the two buildings and renovating them for use as middle schools.

But the board ultimately opted to pursue construction of a new middle school.

Late last summer, the board voted to begin the process of selling the two shuttered elementary schools.

Donora Councilwoman Karen Polkabla, who is also superintendent of the Ringgold School District, addressed the issue at council's most recent work session.

Donora Councilman Dale Shawley said that, while the issue has been discussed, no decision has been made by council.

“It's too early to tell if council is in favor of the idea,” Shawley said.

Donora Mayor John Lignelli said he hasn't considered the issue “one way or another.”

“There's no use for it,” Lignelli said of the building that was constructed in 1931.

“Why wouldn't they try to change it?” Lignelli said. “What good is it if they can't rezone it?”

Donora Councilman Don Pavelko, a member of the sanitation and code enforcement committee, said he favors the request.

“I think that we should try to get this property rezoned,” Pavelko said. “They would have a heck of a job trying to sell this as conservancy.”

Donora Council took no action on the request at its public meeting Thursday, but Pavelko said he plans to bring the issue up for discussion again next month.

“We don't want to get stuck with another Fifth Street school,” Pavelko said.

The Fifth Street School was opened in 1909 and closed in 1979. It has remained vacant ever since.

“My fear is Ringgold will not be able to sell the building,” Pavelko said.

Pavelko, though, said changing the zoning could be a lengthy process involving the borough zoning board and the Washington County Planning Commission. He estimated it could take more than a year to complete with public hearings for public comment before the zoning could be changed.

But Monongahela Councilman Tom Caudill said he opposes the zoning change and believes he speaks for city council. He doubts council will act on the request.

“Our feeling is it would not enhance in any way our community by changing the zoning,” said Caudill, who as a school administrator once served as principal at Donora and Monongahela high schools.

“This is a neighborhood setting and this would not be conducive for the neighborhood to have multi-family dwelling,” he said.

“We feel it would not be welcome by the citizens in that neighborhood.”

Caudill doubted that the city code would permit “spot zoning.”

Monongahela Mayor Bob Kepics declined comment on the issue.

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