In at least one regard, and in no fault of its own, the Manchester school system may be its own worst enemy when it comes to asking voters for new construction.
People pull up to Manchester High School, the adjoining Nolley Elementary School or Manchester Middle School and can’t help but immediately notice how nice – how welcoming, how impressive -- those places look.
The landscaping outside is not overbearing. It is well-kept and well-organized, with the weeds having been pulled, keeping the shrubs and bushes from having to compete for air, and space.
The entrance to each building is bright, shiny and colorful, with plenty of the school colors of red and black displayed in plain view. The floors are so clean that you can see your reflection on them, or eat off them. But maybe bring a paper towel just in case.
Nothing seems to be in disrepair. But when something is broken, it is fixed right away.
So that which greets visitors is all good, and a positive commentary on how the school system maintains its buildings. Manchester takes care of what it has.
For that matter, even when you go to the district’s administration building, which at various times through the years served as the high school, then the junior high school and, before either one of them, the grades 1-12 school way back on the day, it’s easy on the eyes as well.
Not bad for a place that was opened in 1928 as a WPA project – that’s Works Progress Administration, for you millennials out there – when Manchester Road out front was nothing more than a dusty, rut-filled path for horses, cows, groundhogs and assorted other animals.
Not bad, either, for the present high school, which was opened in 1959 as, with the influx of people from the cities to the suburbs, districts all throughout Summit County built new schools.
Also not bad for Nolley, which was opened in 1962 as part of the aforementioned building effort.
And finally, not bad for the middle school, which, in being opened in 1973, 43 years ago, is the district’s "newest" building.
Manchester has a reputation for coaches, teachers and administrators staying a long time. That apparently goes for buildings, too.
Credit the custodians at the individual buildings, working under the direction and diligence of the building principals, for that top-shelf upkeep. If there were a hall of fame for school custodians, all of Manchester’s people would be in it.
Regardless, the voters don’t care about the age of the buildings or how good the maintenance people are. All they know is that the school buildings look great.
So, then, when the district puts bond issues onto the ballot for new construction, it’s a hard sell. It’s a very hard sell.
"When everything is in such good shape, why do you want to tear it down and build something new?" the voters ask, and understandably so.
That paradox was evidenced – again – in Tuesday’s special election when voters in the district narrowly defeated – unofficially by a paltry 15 votes – an 8.3-mill bond issue that would have raised $30.5 million to build a new high school and a new Nolley School for grades kindergarten-fifth grade, while renovating the middle school for sixth- through eighth-graders.
The total cost of the project would have been $47 million, with the state, through a special program, contributing $17 million of it.
Voters turned down the same proposal in March by 80 votes.
"I’m encouraged that the margin of defeat was much less this time," Manchester Schools Superintendent Dr. James Robinson said Wednesday morning. "We had a good game plan in March, and we had a good game plan this time. We had tremendous people working on the passage of this on both occasions. We did the best we could. Really, I don’t know what more we could have done."
Perhaps, though, there is something more that could have done, if the district would have been willing to go out on a limb and do it.
Robinson, members of the Manchester school board and administrators in the district contend that while the schools look great with what people can see, the buildings look horrible with what people can’t see.
There are roofs that are ready to leak as soon as the patchwork efforts to curtail it, finally quit working.
There is plumbing that is already leaking.
There is wiring that is staying connected by a thread – literally and figuratively.
There are bleachers in the high school gym that, in being broken, sway back and forth like a swing.
So if these things are hidden from the public, simply take down the barriers and show them.
Hold a school board meeting on the high school gym bleachers and invited the voters to sit in on it, while holding on for dear life.
Or hold the meeting in plain sight of the leaky plumbing, or the Jerry-rigged wiring, or both. Wear boots and bring electrical tape, just to be safe.
Or hold it outside on the roof, right by some of the improvised cover-up.
Desperate times require desperate measures.
And if after all that the voters still say no, then so be it.
The Akron Beacon Journal ran a story, with photos of some of these problems, after the bond issue failed in March, which, in all fairness, was like closing the barn door after all the horses had run away. By August, that story and those photos had been long-forgotten.
And anyway, while photos are OK – and statistics and reports and comments and door-to-door canvassing of the community are all OK -- seeing is believing. Touching, feeling and standing on the problem is believing. Tangible is good. In-person is good.
Perhaps the school officials should have stood by the road while flagging motorists into the various parking lots to view the problems first-hand.
I’m only half-kidding. They should have detoured voters into the lots with cones and barricades and law enforcement.
Not every voter needed to see these issues. Get a group of them to come through, and they would have gone back home and told all their family friends. The truth – whatever it is, and whatever it’s about – travels fastest and best by word of mouth. Voters trust each other’s word.
But even this philosophy is a moot point. According to Robinson, the window of opportunity to take advantage of the state money is over – maybe for good. He said the state has indicated it will be getting rid of the availability of money for new construction.
Manchester voters turned down a similar proposal some years ago when it was first presented to the district, but the chance circled back this year. There will apparently be no circling back this time.
Robinson said the fact that the city of New Franklin, in which the school district is located, also had a tax issue on the ballot on Tuesday, had nothing to do with the bond issue failing.
"I can’t blame the city for what they did," he said. "They want to get families moving in, and the only way to do that is to provide them with services."
By a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, voters approved doubling the city’s income tax from 1 percent to percent while dropping a 2.5-mill policy levy. The exchange will free up $1 million, which will be used to fund the police department.
Still, two entities having tax issues – however they’re constituted -- on the ballot at the same time, could be considered a bit much in a conservative, penny-conscious community like New Franklin/Manchester.
"I know our bond issue was a good bargain in getting $47 million of new construction for $30 million, while I’m seeing in Akron that they’re spending $80 million on new construction," Robinson said.
"A lot of our voters agreed with me and voted for it, but a few more disagreed and voted against it. The voters as a whole have spoken, and I can live with that. I can understand that they didn’t want to pay more.
"Athletics are big in our district, and I was a coach on a Manchester football team in 1997 that lost the state championship game in five overtimes. And in 2013, I was a coach on a team that lost in the state semifinals. What I’ve learned from those experiences is that you can’t let it beat you and keep you down. You’ve got to get up the next morning and get at it again. That’s what I’m going to do here. We’ve got a bunch of great students and a bunch of great teachers and administrators, and I’ve got to move forward and do the best I can for them. They deserve that."
He went on, "When I was coaching defense, I would tell the kids that we could either attack or we could stay back and cover the receivers. You might be able to knock the quarterback around, or if you don’t get to him, he may pick you apart. So you pick your poison.
"In the same way, the problems we have in our buildings aren’t going away. So in the next five or 10 years, the voters are eventually going to have to deal with this problem. And by then, it’s going to cost a lot more to address the issues."