The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

School centralization: Aftermath

Efforts continue behind the scenes on two important economic development programs in the county: one to build the future and one to tear down the past.

The Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation (VWAEDC; pronounced Vwa’-dek) has been meeting weekly, going through the tedium of forming a corporate structure, adopting bylaws, and establishing accounts for banking and insurance. Local resident Bill Marshall has graciously allowed us to hijack his years of headhunting experience, helping us develop a job description for the future economic development director. That job description will soon be posted on the city and county websites, as well as in the media and various professional avenues identified by Mr. Marshall. In the interim, if you have interest in the job description, contact the city or county offices.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

That is the future. Regarding the past, the county completed and submitted the application this week for federal funds to enable our land bank to begin tearing down abandoned homes. I related a few weeks ago that myself and County Community Development Director Sue Gerker would be working on the application. That eventually turned into me doing a little bit of research and writing and Sue doing 95 percent of the work. But technically, that still makes it a collaborative effort, right?

In the end, we stand to gain $825,000, if funded, and that would get rid of 60 to 80 homes in the county, as well as providing the ways and means to demolish more in the future. If it happens, perhaps there can be some thanks to the efforts of us city and county officials who scrambled to put the land bank together, but we can mostly thank Sue. We will learn if we have succeeded in October.

To support the grant application, I researched the population trends that tell the story of our blighted areas. Obviously, fewer people mean more abandoned homes. The decline in most of our villages has been stark and the cause easily identifiable. When Lincolnview, Crestview, and Parkway formed in the early 1960s, some or our villages retained an elementary school. The real decline began when those districts eliminated their satellite buildings and centralized their operations.

In 1960, at Crestview’s creation, Wren’s population stood at 287. Through 1980, it had remained relatively stable at 282. In the early 1990s, Crestview built an elementary, along with its new high school in Convoy, eliminating the Wren school. By 2000, Wren had lost almost 30 percent of its 1980 population, down to 199.

Middle Point actually increased in number in the decades after consolidation as Lincolnview maintained its East Elementary building there (where I went to school K-3). Population rose from 571 in 1960 to the town’s high water mark of 709 in 1980. In 1997, the Lancers won state in basketball. A wave of good feeling passed a school levy to build an elementary school next to the high school and the Middle Point building was abandoned. By 2010, population in Middle Point had fallen to 576, a decrease from 1980 of 19 percent.

Willshire has had the worst run of it. In 1970, shortly after Parkway consolidated and the village was left its elementary school, Willshire’s population stood at 623. In 1980 and 1990 that number fell by 9.5 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, to stand at 541. But by 2000 it had fallen another 14.4 percent to 463 and the town soon lost its elementary school. By 2010, population stood at 397, a drop of 36 percent over a 40-year period. There were other factors at work here, as well as in Wren, but the failure to repopulate certainly involved the lack of a center provided by a school.

Ohio City is relatively new to all of this. The Ohio City-Liberty High School existed until 1989, when it was absorbed by the Van Wert City School system. I was a junior at Lincolnview when students from Ohio City came to visit our school as their district was trying to decide which way to go. At consolidation, Ohio City had a 1990 population of 899. That fell in the following decade by 12.8 percent and by another 10.1 percent  to 705 in 2010.

The exception that proves the rule is Convoy. In 1960, Convoy had a population of 976. Although it has had slight decreases over the last two decades, in 2010 there were 109 more people living there than in 1960, a population of 1,085 and an increase since consolidation of 11 percent. But that’s not to say blighted homes is not a problem there as well. When we sent out a request to the villages for possible target properties to include in our grant application, Convoy got us 10 the next day.

The city in the middle, Van Wert, has maintained a comparatively stable population throughout. Over the 50-year period of 1960 to 2010, there was a decline of 4.2 percent, from 11,323 to 10,846. The blighted housing problem in the city has different roots. In the villages, there has been little new home construction in the last 40 years. In Van Wert, even though the population has been relatively static, several new housing developments have been built, leaving many homes abandoned in the older parts of the city.

There was nothing inevitable in the emptying of our villages. St. Henry’s population in 1960 was 711, basically the same as Middle Point then. It is 2,427 now, an increase of 341 percent. In the same period, Coldwater’s population increased 6 percent to 4,427. Those towns are four miles apart and did not consolidate. Ottoville, Kalida, and Fort Jennings have all increased over the last 50 years as well, as each defied proximity to resist centralization.

There were good reasons for school consolidations when they happened and everyone loves their Lancers and Knights. I bet even some old Ohio City Warriors are starting to consider themselves Cougars. But one has to wonder, if our villages had it to do over again …

POSTED: 09/02/16 at 10:54 pm. FILED UNDER: Opinions