As Community Deals with GM Plant's Uncertain Future, Lordstown Schools Take on Special Significance

Dec 11, 2018

GM’s decision to cease production of the Chevy Cruze at Lordstown is bringing an end, at least for the time being, to one of the last super-size industrial sites that used to drive the Mahoning Valley economy. It’s also bringing an end to the plant’s defining presence for the community around it.  

Center of Lordstown -- the intersection of Rt. 45 and Salt Springs Rd.
Credit TIM RUDELL / WKSU

Driving into Lordstown
It’s clear this isn’t typical small-town Ohio. There’s no downtown, just an intersection where Salt Springs Road crosses State Route 45.  There’s a gas station on one corner; cattycorner across from a gifts and collectibles shop.  For fifty years the main driver for Lordstown has been the GM plant.  But the lack of a town center doesn’t mean the 3,200 residents who live in the semi-rural area don’t have a community.

Schools take on special role
Lordstown Local Schools Superintendent Terry Armstrong says the schools have been that center. “We are a community hub. We actually house the Scope Center senior service agency in our building.  We house the village recreation program.  We have a walking program in here at night. There’s yoga classes that the community does in here in the evening.  I feel that we are a very important part of the community.”

The "rock" in front of Lordstown High
Credit TIM RUDELL / WKSU

Bill Catlin is a retired Lordstown police chief and president of the Lordstown Board of Education.  He agrees with Armstrong. “The community and the school are tied together. I mean, the school is Lordstown. We’re a very close knit community.  Especially the schools. Especially with the senior citizens. The schools do so much for them. They support the schools.” 

History
Lordstown Schools employ 42 teachers.  Allysa Brookbank is an intervention specialist for 3rd and 4th grade. She says the school system has built a special relationship with the community over the decades. “And we are a very small district and a close knit district and the students and their families are our top concern. Are their basic needs being met? Is there enough food getting on the table? That kind of basic stuff.”

Far reaching effects of closing
The effects of the GM plant shutting down production will hit the community in more ways than just lost paychecks according to board president Bill Catlin.  He says property tax revenue from the plant alone is going to be an issue. “We’re probably going to lose about $800,000 a year.  That’s just on the property tax.  If GM looks around and says 'OK we want devaluation on that property,' it’s going to slide down from that.”

Chevy Cruze banner on the west end of the GM Lordstown complex
Credit TIM RUDELL / WKSU

Not giving up
Terry Armstrong says he wants to emphasize that theme. “We are still hopeful that the plant will survive. We’re going to be working with the UAW and having a letter writing campaign where our students will take part in it, and our staff will take part in it.  We’re working with some other school districts in the area to join us in that--send some letters to Michigan as a school community to speak out. And hopefully they’ll rethink the decision and put a vehicle there.”

In the schools
Hannah Boyle is an 11th grader at Lordstown High.  She says she and her classmates aren’t giving up.  But there is anxiety. “I think everyone is worried. We’re very wary of this happening. We’re like, but maybe we’ll get something. And even the kids who don’t have parents or family members working at GM are worried because those are their friends and the people they’ve known all their lives—and they’re gone.”

Lordstown School in the early 1900s
Credit Lordstown School District

The center can hold
GM’s announcement means the last 1,600 workers at the Lordstown complex are losing their jobs when production ceases in March.  But Terry Armstrong says the schools and their supporters are determined not to let the community’s center slip away. “We plan to have quarterly financial forums starting in January to go over any of the challenges that we’re faced with, including the situation with General Motors. So the goal is that everybody remains confident in the school. We need to focus on our families, we need to focus on our kids and give them the support that everybody’s talked about.”

Armstrong says the important thing is that the schools will be there, for the community and the future.