NORTHFIELD CENTER — Concerns over the signage in the Nordonia Hills Schools seems to be the impetus for Summa Health to terminate its multi-year sponsorship contract with the district.

Whether the school district will continue its partnership with Summa Health remains to be determined, after Summa chose to terminate its $55,000-per-year contract, which was signed in 2015 and was supposed to last nine years, for sponsorship of the athletic fields and auditorium at Nordonia High School. Instead, Summa is offering a one-year, $25,000 deal.

Mike Bernstein, system director, corporate communications for Summa Health, said the the 2015 agreement with the district includes an opt-out clause for either party in 2018.

Superintendent Joe Clark said that he was initially told that the district no longer aligns with the hospital system’s marketing and expansion plan geographically. It was in the March 29 letter from Summa Health where an issue with the signs was brought up.

According to the letter, "the most valuable element to Summa, the billboard sign, was installed two years after the contract specified and the size is significantly smaller than a typical billboard, limiting critical visibility from Route 8."

"In 2018, Summa is particularly challenged from a budget perspective and must ensure appropriate utilization of marketing dollars," stated the March 29 letter, which was addressed to Clark and other school administrators.

Clark said the contract called for a "billboard like sign" to the extent allowable by zoning.

"Zoning allowed for a 40 square foot monument sign, which Summa worked with us to design and gave us the go ahead to have built and installed," Clark said. "So I’m not entirely sure what their issue with the sign is. We were required to pay for all of the signs everywhere on our property, including installation. We paid for all of those signs out of the money Summa was paying us. The monument sign cost $13,000."

There were more than 15 total signs placed on school property, Clark added.

The signs will stay up at least until June 30, Clark said, when the contract ends.

"After that, we may keep them up a little while longer so perspective sponsors can see all of the exposure they would have access to," Clark said. "The monument is permanent. It will stay there until we have a new sponsor and can afford to put a new sign on the brick pedestal we built."

The cancellation will cost the district the remaining $330,000 it was due.

"We are deeply disappointed with this decision," Clark said. "After three years of our district working hard to meet the requirements of the contract, it comes as a shock that Summa has ended the partnership so suddenly."

Clark also said Summa’s decision took the district by surprise.

"We are also shocked that they would work with us, and allow us to pay for, the construction of the large, lighted monument sign knowing they were going to end the partnership," he added. "The sign is permanent and was installed less than six months before they told us they were going to cancel the contract. We are dismayed by this turn of events and skeptical about the timing."

Bernstein responded to questions about the opt out decision with a statement.

"Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the original vision of the contract from a signage and sponsorship perspective was not able to be fulfilled," Bernstein stated in an April 10 email. "As a result, we notified the school district of our decision to exercise the opt out clause mutually agreed to by both organizations. At the same time, hoping to find common ground to continue the relationship, we met with school district leadership to identify new opportunities that could be beneficial to all parties and we remain willing to engage in additional dialogue."

Bernstein said the hospital chain is not ending community sponsorships.

"Like all responsible organizations, we will continue to regularly evaluate our contractual relationships to ensure they are providing maximum value for all parties," he said.

Clark said the sponsorship had covered funding for updates to the district’s athletic facilities and auditorium, some of which would improve student safety and security. He said that money will now have to come from Nordonia Schools’ general fund.

"The partnership was not just for our athletic fields, but also for our theater," said Clark. "We were looking to use the money to renovate the entire auditorium and replace the turf at the high school. Making other upgrades or completing general maintenance to all of our athletic facilities is now going to be a challenge."

The district intends to meet with Summa to discuss the details of the new $25,000 option in upcoming months.

The district’s five-year forecast currently projects a deficit, presenting a challenge to complete those projects, according to school officials. The Board of Education is expected to place a levy on the November ballot in an effort to recover funding to complete the necessary projects and to augment safety and security in the district.

The termination of the partnership was within the parameters of the contract, though Clark said he never expected this outcome.

"This is a community that has shown great resiliency in the past and will continue to do so," said Clark. "We are facing adversity right now, but we will do our best to overcome it. Nordonia Hills City Schools is always seeking sponsorships and hopes to receive another corporate partnership of this capacity in the future."

Businesses interested in pursuing a partnership should reach out to Clark directly at joe.clark@nordoniaschools.org.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or ??@AprilKHelms_RPC??