Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake leaders look ahead to 2021

City, village focus on infrastructure; school leaders concerned with closing learning gaps happening during pandemic

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Portage Trail between Albertson Parkway and State Road is scheduled for a widening project in 2022. The design work and land acquisition for the project is expected to occur in 2021.  [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

CUYAHOGA FALLS, SILVER LAKE — Even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, municipal and school leaders said there are many projects and initiatives moving forward in the new year.

Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said the city's top priorities in 2021 are: reinvesting in neighborhoods and infrastructure; public engagement; and attracting more new businesses to the municipality.

Walters said the city has allocated $3 million for street paving projects in the new year, which is "the most we've ever spent in the history of the city." This road resurfacing work is mainly occurring in the neighborhoods.

The mayor noted that the design work and land acquisition for a widening of Portage Trail Extension between State Road and Albertson Parkway is expected to happen in 2021. He added the actual construction will probably not occur until 2022. A designated left-turn lane and a walking trail will be added in this area.

Walters said that area of Portage Trail "gets bottlenecked. Rush hour's pretty rough on that stretch."

The mayor said the city is buying a large milling machine that will allow some paving of sections of roads to occur "in-house."

The city has budgeted $1.1 million for water line replacement and infrastructure, $3 million for electric upgrades, and $1.375 million for stormwater projects. 

"Flooding is an issue in a lot of places," said Walters. "There's improvements that we're going to make to try and mitigate some of the flooding during the heavy storms…it's just spending money back within the neighborhoods."

Storm sewer upgrades are planned at Preston Park and Lynn Drive, and Kelsey Drive and Myrtle Avenue.

The mayor said the city is "trying to be proactive" by fully replacing water lines rather than repairing them as they break. A total of $400,000 is set aside for multiple 4-inch water line replacements.

Walters said the city will continue with the neighborhood programs they've already been doing. The front-yard meetings that typically occur in neighborhoods were conducted through a virtual format in 2020.

Before the pandemic, a resident would host the meeting in their yard and everyone in the neighborhood could attend and speak with city officials about issues of concern.

"That's going to continue, whether virtual or in-person, we don't know yet," said Walters, "I really want to step that up."

Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said his staff will work with merchants along the southern section of State Road (from Portage Trail heading south to the Akron corporation line) on defining and "branding" the area in 2021.

Walters noted his administration will work on defining and "branding" the southern part of State Road, which he said is "pretty vibrant."

"We need to get the merchants together as a group and come up with some ideas [about] how we can better promote that [area] and define it," said Walters.

The area being focused on is State Road from Portage Trail south to the Akron corporation line.

Walters added the city may help businesses with marketing, acquiring grants to make some improvements, and beautification efforts.

"Almost anything you need is on south State Road, but we don't want people to forget about it," said Walters.

The mayor said there is also a general, ongoing effort to promote the city to people outside the municipality to hopefully persuade them to buy homes and start businesses in the Falls.

"We're headed in a really good direction," said Walters. "We need to share that with the world."

He noted there will be some signage along Route 8 highlighting the historic area of downtown and the scenic overlook at High Bridge Glens Park.

Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey said village leaders will begin making plans to upgrade Englewood Drive with curbs and sidewalks. The western side is in Silver Lake and the eastern side is in the city of Stow. Hovey said he is planning to speak with Stow officials about working with them on the project. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Village of Silver Lake

Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey said village leaders will be examining their financing options for a project to upgrade the infrastructure of Englewood Drive, which has a history of flooding problems. With the west side of Englewood in Silver Lake and the east side in the city of Stow, Hovey said he hopes to work with Stow leaders on the project.

The project, which is estimated at $3 million, would include putting in curbs and sidewalks on both sides of Englewood, as well as widening the street, according to Hovey. 

"That's a big project and we've got to move forward on it," said Hovey, who noted part of the project's cost would be handled through assessments.

The engineering work for Englewood was done in 2020.

Just like their neighbor in Cuyahoga Falls, Silver Lake leaders are also looking to replace water lines, many of which are "at least 50 years old or more," said Hovey. Some are more prone to breaking than others.

He noted that replacing water lines would be a "multi-million dollar" project that the village would need to do "in phases." Hovey said the first step would be to perform a study to find the water lines that are most in need of repair. Then, the village would need to figure out how to pay for the work and replace the water lines over "several, if not many years," said Hovey. He noted a similar process was done to replace sewer lines in the 2000s.

He noted that village hall would be open to the public unless Summit County was placed in Level 4 (or purple) on the state's COVID-19 map.

Cuyahoga Falls City Schools

Cuyahoga Falls City School District Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said the district's major focus areas are: closing the achievement gap caused by the pandemic; growing and supporting district families; and the grades 6-12 campus building project.

To improve student growth, Nichols said administrators and teachers are in the early stages of developing the Integrated Comprehensive Systems for Equity (ICS) process.

"ICS will help us analyze our current biases and processes, so we can guarantee equitable access to high-quality instruction," said Nichols.

Nichols added that, during the pandemic, it is particularly important to take care of the health and wellness of students and staff members, and communicate with district families. He noted that Holly Merkle's role as the district's coordinator of wellness and success has been expanded to "meet the needs of all students and staff." Nichols said John Wasylko was hired as the district's community relations representative in the middle of 2020 because "communications will play a vital role" in providing necessary information to district families.

More steps will be taken in 2021 on plans for the construction of a 370,000-square-foot building for sixth through 12th graders at the site where Bolich Middle School and Newberry Elementary School now stand. In October, the district learned it had been accepted into a different state funding program for the project. The Expedited Local Partnership Program, which is administered through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, will provide $33.2 million for a building project that has an overall price tag of $113.8 million. The majority of the project expense is coming from a bond issue passed by voters in November 2019. In October, Nichols said moving into ELPP means the district can "access our $80 million [in local funding] and hit 'go' on the project."

The board of education on Dec. 16 voted to hire Hammond Construction Inc.for construction management services at a price tag of $106,292.

Nichols said he's excited about the project.

"It is a living example of our schools being a hub of the community – as the new building will be anchored in the heart of Cuyahoga Falls," said Nichols.

Woodridge Local Schools

Woodridge Local School District Superintendent Walter Davis said the district will prioritize: closing learning gaps that have occurred during the pandemic; maintaining the Woodridge Virtual Academy post-pandemic; readjusting teaching assignments once the pandemic ends; and updating its strategic plan.

While noting many students have been successful navigating the challenges of remote learning, Davis said other young people have struggled.

"We will need to develop a plan to focus efforts on assessing what, if any, skill deficits exist as we work to remediate, intervene and close any gaps in learning that have been created," stated Davis.

Davis said he believes the Woodridge Virtual Academy that was developed during the pandemic has been a "fabulous resource" for families that selected the all-remote option at the start of the school year. He noted the plan is to keep the virtual academy operating even after school schedules return to normal.

"[Maintaining the virtual academy] will require strategic staffing decisions to ensure that we have appropriate support K-12 for those enrolled," said Davis.

He also noted that the pandemic led to the district bringing in more teachers so that class sizes could be reduced in an effort to maintain proper social distancing in the classrooms.

"When this [pandemic] ends, and we pray that it will soon, there will be staffing decisions to make as we readjust grade level sections and teaching assignments to more typical ratios," said Davis.

Noting the district's strategic plan was last updated in 2016, Davis said the administrative team will do a review process in 2021 to "update our focus and realign our priorities to ensure that we are meeting the expectations and goals adopted by the board of education."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.