Falls schools plan timber harvesting

NEWTON FALLS –With the Newton Falls Exempted School District facing difficult financial times, school officials are trying a new way to generate funds by having timber harvesting on 42 acres of primeval forest the district owns on the school campus.

An auction is set 9 a.m. July 3 at the board of education meeting room at the junior high school for timber harvesting bids from interested vendors who will be asked to outline plans of their harvest, size of tree to be taken, method of payment and how the ground will be restored from hauling of trees.

School Treasurer Jonathan Pusateri said selective harvesting is when only trees of a certain diameter and harvest are taken.

“They will only take a certain amount of trees. With the estimates we have seen, we have to take a look at this type of project because of the financial state we are in,” Pusateri said.

“I have never done this before, so I spoke to other places where trees are harvested to get an idea. Not many school districts have ever done this. It is new, and we are taking a lot of things into consideration and seeing what is best for the enviroment. We will need a detailed plan on the number and size of trees,” Pusateri said.

He said after a selection is made with board approval, the harvesting will be done in late July or early August.

Various types of trees, such as walnut, beech and oak, are found on the southeastern section of the property east of the football stadium and middle school. Pusateri said the land is basically untouched except for dirt bike riders who have created paths, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs.

Newton Falls graduate Ethan Kistler said when he was a student a decade ago, he visited the forests during biology class where students learned about the environment, plants and wildlife that inhabit there.

“Having our schools surrounded by a natural environment was always a bonus of Newton Falls schools, as opposed to nearby districts, which are surrounded by concrete. Clearly the school district needs money but selling off older growth trees will only accumulate money temporarily. After the money has been spent, all we will be left with is the eyesore of a fragmented forest that will take a hundred years or more to regenerate. The need for money will still be there,” he said. “We should be focusing on getting a levy passed and not taking extremes for short term funds.”

Pusateri defended the logging idea, saying the money is needed.

“We want to do what is fiscally sound for the district. We are looking at our revenue and expenses. The last thing the school baord wants to do is go back to the voters for a levy,” Pusateri said.

The district has recently cut 15 staff and closed the elementary school as cost-saving measures. Woodard said the elementary gymansium will be used for athletic events. He has said the district will save between $350,000 and $450,000 with the cuts and closing of the elementary school.

The district has seen the loss of 610 students between 1990 and 2017, which translates to a loss of $3.66 million in state funding. Pusateri said the district will be in deficit spending with an ending fund balance of negative $1.9 million by 2021.

School Superintendent Paul Woodard said the board was approached earlier this year by a local logging company interested in harvesting the trees for different types of lumber, so the board looked into the request.

“We weren’t familiar with this so we looked into it and since we are hurting financially we felt this will help generate more money for the district’s general fund,” Woodard said.

He said they need to hold a public auction to see what bids would be received. Woodard said there has already been a few calls from companies and residents interested. He said some companies harvest trees every 15 years to help thin out the wooded areas and over time replenish the areas with new trees.

The company selected will have to do all the harvesting.

Pusateri, Woodard and district maintenance supervisor Russ Cole did research on logging and visited sites where the companies involved had done selective logging to see if ruts were left and if the companies did what they said they would. Pusateri said they will not allow a mill to be built on school property because of noise and instead will require the company to drag and haul the timber out by trucks.