Dormitory News Conference Becomes Gripe Session

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Frustrations, questions and concerns were heard from community members at a press conference Friday that was called to announce a public dormitory project. 

The public dormitory would house vulnerable, at-risk students in the area. The Mahoning Valley Children’s Task Force proposed the expansion of the Mahoning County High School, or MCHS, with two 200-bed public, college prep dormitories for students in grades seven through 12. While the project is still in its infancy stage, community members said they were left out of the planning process.

“The best way to get things over to people is to let them know what’s going on,” said Artis Gillam, former first ward councilman. “Don’t try to hide from them. That’s what we’re asking here. All people are asking for is to be part of what they’re trying to do.” 

Since 2008, Mahoning County High School has graduated more than 300 students who were expelled from other area schools. The dorms are meant to house children exposed to trauma and stress.

Funding for the project and the location of the dormitories have yet to be determined, but planners want to build it behind the high school, which would make it convenient for students to attend school and walk back to the dorm at the end of the day, said Pastor Ken Donaldson, Rising Star Baptist Church.

“These are not bad kids,” Donaldson said. “These are kids who have no resources. That’s how I got involved. I will continue to support anything that is a support to our children.” 

Constructing the dorms behind MCHA requires state legislation, which is the biggest hurdle thus far, said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. Building the dormitory in the neighborhood was a sticking point with community members in attendance.

Pastor Ken Donaldson of the Rising Star Baptist Church.

“We don’t know where it’s going to be,” said Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick. “This is not something that’s done and it was just proposed that it could be there. So, if anyone is jumping the gun saying it’s in your neighborhood, you’re wrong.”

Phillip Warren, a former teacher at Youngstown City Schools and president of a neighborhood block watch, asked how the community could be “jumping the gun.”

“Once again, how could I be jumping the gun if you just show me proof of what you did to us?” Warren asked. “We’re intelligent people here. You just can’t come in and think you have the audacity to say, ‘You’re jumping the gun. We’re going to put this in your neighborhood or we’re not going to put this here. We don’t know.’ You have to know. If you made all of these plans, they have to know what’s going on.” 

Community members are engaged in neighborhood projects, Warren said. As new projects and ideas are brought to the table, he encourages residents to contact him. As president of the neighborhood block watch, his contact information can be accessed through the city, he said.

“They have our files on who’s the president on all of these block watches,” he said. “We’re just being held out, blocked out for what reason? That’s why we’re here to ask.”  

Planners of the project need to have a community meeting to begin the process of their input on an effort that will affect the lives of a neighborhood and the city as a whole, said Dario Hunter, board member of the Youngstown Board of Education. 

“There aren’t any justifiable reasons for not doing so,” he said in a statement. 

Gillam asserted he would have supported the project had he known about it, regardless of the location of the dorm. However, he did not feel included.

“It was never the intention to sneak something in on the community,” Rising Star’s Donaldson said, who has been sitting in on this project for a year. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say, and I’m not going to hold back, so I apologize to community if you feel like you were left out.”

All citizens should and must be involved in anything that happens in their community, Brown said. He believes community members are just expressing their lack of knowledge about the project. “As long as there’s a breath in my body, I will continue to advocate the options as mayor,” he added. 

“Everyone who’s going to be engaged in this needs to sit down and talk about what does this look like and how is it going to affect the neighborhood or community where it may be located.”

Pictured: Phillip Warren, former Youngstown City Schools teacher and block watch president addresses those in attendance at the press conference. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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