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A $240,000 elevator is on its way to be installed at the former Mantua Center School, which Mantua Township, The Mantua Restoration Society and Mantua Community Center Task Force is restoring into a township government and community building.
When the township began discussing the idea to renovate the 1914 schoolhouse, it was clear that the three-story building would have to be accessible to everyone, hence the new elevator.
"It wouldn't have mattered what else we might have done," said Carole Pollard, president of Mantua Restoration Society, which develops funding to preserve historic buildings in the township. "It was going to be limited use and because of limitations on its use people who wanted to use it wouldn't be able to and people who weren't in favor of the building would always be able to criticize it."
Three grants totaling a quarter of a million dollars have been awarded for the elevator and bell tower restoration -- two were Community Development Block Grants and the other a cultural facilities grant through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
Mantua Township Trustee Victor Grimm is working to update the electric and install a standby generator outside the building.
"Right now, we're trying to get the power changed for the elevator," said Grimm. "It's all new power from the road to the building. That's why it's such a major change."
Grimm's vision for the building includes assembly, education, township offices and emergency shelter.
"There's really nothing north of (S.R.) 303 for a shelter, but if we had this generator this building is self-efficient," he said. "We'd have our own electric. We'd have our own water. We have the kitchen area that we could feed people in an emergency. We still would like to maintain our first floor of township government offices because none of the trustees have an office. We're all working out of our homes."
Two large classrooms on the second floor are being used as a zoning and clerk office even in the layers of construction dust, peeling paint and barricades blocking the hollow elevator shaft, for which inches of brick wall and a girls bathroom were removed.
The gymnasium, a 1964 addition to the building, is being used for bridal showers, children's birthday parties and the American Legion's soup suppers on the first Friday of the month. The seven bathrooms were made ADA-compliant a few years ago and two are being converted into unisex restrooms.
Across the hall is a potential community room and four classrooms on the third floor can be used for a variety of things once the elevator is in. Mantua Center Christian Church is using one of the rooms for a clothing giveaway.
"There's a large room in the basement that we're considering (for an after school program)," Grimm said. "There is a room ideal for meetings and gatherings and eventually the township meetings could be held here if chosen to be."
Last year, a proposal for an after-school program by a group of area ministers probed the idea for community center with a heavy focus on youth.
"There was a proposal initiated by three of four ministers in the area," Pollard said. "Chad Delaney from Mantua Center Church and Jeff Jackson from Hilltop saw a need along with the school system for various student activities," Pollard said. "They came out of nowhere and it was startling."
Then, about 20 citizens formed the task force proposing to utilize a portion of the building as a community center. The task force includes Jay Schabel, Ken Parker and Terri Vechery and many others heading up fundraising and grants and programming committees.
In February, the Mantua Restoration Society and the task force held a SweetheArt and Cookie Walk as a joint fundraising and raised $5,000 from cookies and a live art auction in the gymnasium. They plan to make it a tradition in the community.
The restoration society and township will have an elevator grand opening in mid-August with chocolate, popcorn and free elevator rides and a bell ringing party once the restoration of the bell tower is complete.
"The thing is to get it everything and running and really nice and turn it into a showpiece to demonstrate what can do done," Pollard said.
Mantua Center School was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Mantua Township purchased the building in 2004 from the school district after the building closed.