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Ford City High School's future worries council

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 7:33 a.m.

Ford City Council wants to start making plans for Ford City High School before Armstrong School District potentially decides the fate of the closing building for them.

Mayor Marc Mantini said there should already be communication between the borough and district regarding the future of the building along Fourth Avenue. ASD plans to shut down the building, along with Kittanning Senior High and Kittanning Junior High before the district's new high school opens in Manor Township in 2015.

“This is a serious dislocation not just for Ford City but (also for) Kittanning,” Mantini said. “And I don't know if the school board has had the decency to contact any elected officials in Kittanning or Ford City.”

Council President Lou Vergari said he was unaware of any communications from ASD, but members of council had met with Mike Coonley, executive director of the Armstrong County Department of Economic Development, regarding the issue.

Council member Jerry Miklos said Coonley recommended the borough attempt to gain control of the building and apply for it to become a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ). That designation would provide significant state and local tax benefits to the owner along with priority for state and local community-building assistance programs.

“That means (there won't be) taxes (collected) from the building or property for ‘x' number of years,” said Miklos. “Hopefully, this would give someone incentive to purchase and develop the property.”

But Vergari, who said the site would be tax-free for 10 years, believes the first step for the borough will be to attempt to secure the building from ASD.

“Some people say, ‘No, that building is in bad shape and so on and so forth,' ” said Vergari. “I'm not doubting that. But I'd rather have that building in the hands of the borough ... That way, we could sell it to somebody, make it a park or do anything with it. If someone wants to build something on it, we're open to sell it. But if we don't do anything, the school could just sit there.”

Miklos said council should seek public input on the future of the building and possibly hold a town meeting on the matter.

“We're running out of time,” he said. “The county told us the decision (about applying for KOEZ status) needed to be made before the school board meeting in August.”

The issue was tabled for further discussion.

In other news:

• Council unanimously voted to apply for a Penn-Works grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development for work on its new water treatment facility. Kevin Smyth, an inspector with Garvin Engineering & Municipal Management, said the grant could net the borough $900,000 — or about 75 percent of the total $1.2 million project cost. The other 25 percent would be covered by a $300,000 loan from S&T Bank.

• Parks and Recreation committee member Stacy Klukan said something needs to be done about cracks in the borough walking trail. She said she heard reports of residents tripping on the pavement, which was just placed in 2011. “We have to make sure we keep that trail safe for everyone's use,” said Klukan. “Especially for rollerbladers and older adults who are using it, too.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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