Officials will face challenges, embrace new projects in 2021
As everyone waves goodbye to 2020 and welcomes 2021, the community leaders share the challenges and upcoming projects anticipated in the new year.
A common challenge many brought up is the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the United States early last year. The virus shuttered school and government buildings, canceled events and caused many businesses to go under.
The new year will mean recovering from the aftermath as well as preparing for the future.
Twinsburg Mayor Ted Yates said “2021 will be a pivotal year for the city.”
“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to COVID, but getting Twinsburg through this transition and back to a ‘normal life’ will be a huge challenge,” Yates said. “Everything we know and love about our city has been impacted. This is an unprecedented global pandemic that has turned our small town upside down. Twinsburg’s quality of life has been altered in ways that we have never seen before.”
The city’s financial issues “is another one of the city’s biggest concerns,” Yates said.
“Expenses continue to rise and it has become more and more challenging to maintain the high level of city’s services and amenities with our current revenue structure,” he said. “In 2021, some tough decisions will need to be made by my administration, Council and residents.”
In December, the city’s leaders encouraged residents to fill out an online survey requesting feedback on what services were important to them, and whether they would sponsor certain types of levy proposals. They also had a series of virtual focus groups,
Council president Greg Bellan (W-5) said that there were forums for each of the wards, plus other forums for groups such as the city’s seniors.
“I’m interested in digging into that data and reacting to that,” Bellan said. “The response was very good. The focus groups were all full."
Yates said that the pandemic showed him “how important all the events and programs we offer our families and seniors are to each of them.”
“The city’s recent survey and discussion with residents has shown me that I need to spend more time engaging our residents,” Yates said. “We all have a desire to see Twinsburg grow and prosper, but working toward that vision can only be accomplished by working together as a community. 2021 will be another challenging year, but I know that we can get through it together.”
The redevelopment of the central area will also be a focus, Yates said. The city has been floating the idea of a planned downtown development project that would include a blend of residential and commercial development. The development would be on the land on the east side of Darrow Road, across the street from the Twinsburg Town Center shopping center.
In February, Yates had said that “85 percent of the property” had been acquired, and that Twinsburg officials would go out to gauge interest in “60 to 90 days.”
Bill Furey, councilman at-large and the president of the Twinsburg Community Improvement Corp., said in a previous interview that the property in question includes about 12 acres, including the former old school lot and a couple acres owned by the TCIC just north of the post office.
Bellan said that “a lot of it was put on the backburner due to the pandemic.”
Yates said he was “encouraged by some of the discussions and interest that has been expressed by some local developers.”
“I hope that 2021 is the year we can come to the residents to develop a plan and vision for our downtown area,” Yates said.
Providing educational opportunities in 2021
Twinsburg schools Superintendent Kathryn Powers said that the biggest challenge the district faces in the new year is providing “as many educational opportunities as the district can for our students in as safe a manner as possible while remaining cognizant of the restrictions placed upon us due to the ongoing pandemic.”
“This is a challenge due to the unknown nature of the evolving pandemic,” Powers said.
The pandemic has led to additional costs for the district, she noted.
“The pandemic has caused the school district to reach into its cash balance to support the employment of additional staff members and to purchase large amounts of personal protective equipment in order to provide appropriate safety protocols such as social distancing and sanitization,” Powers said.
Another issue for the district is that one of its levies, which generates about $5 million annually, needs to be renewed. On Dec. 16, the Twinsburg school board unanimously approved to take the first of two steps in placing the renewal on the May 4 ballot.
“This renewal levy has been a matter of discussion for many years,” Powers said. “It is extremely important for the renewal levy to pass so that we can continue to provide our students with excellent educational opportunities while doing so in a safe and healthy learning environment.”
Powers said that the district will have “two very important projects in which to engage our school community.”
“Prior to the pandemic, the district was engaging our community members in conversations regarding the Conceptual Legacy Project, which would provide 21st century learning spaces for our students,” Powers said. “We would like to continue this community engagement in efforts to determine our residents' interest in this project. Secondly, as a school district, we continue to reflect upon our current practices in order to evolve into a much more inclusive community where racial equity, diversity, and belonging are key components to our students' success.”
School board president Mark Curtis said he felt the biggest challenge facing the district in the new year “is working to sustain providing the highest quality education to our students given the most difficult circumstances we've ever faced.”
“This includes maintaining the moral of our staff throughout this process,” Curtis said. “We will continue working with our collective bargaining units to be flexible and responsive to their needs as much as possible.”
Curtis agreed that the passage of the renewal levy was another important issue.
“The financial impact of the pandemic has made passage of this renewal levy ever more critical to maintaining district operations,” Curtis said.
His wish for the new year?
“I'm looking forward to the day we can transition back to some sense of normalcy, where our students can experience graduations, extracurricular activities, and enjoy learning again,” Curtis said.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at email@example.com