Government

Youngstown, 910th Sign Demolition Pact

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Air Force Col. James Dignan already is fielding calls from around the country about a soon-to-be-launched initiative that would enable Air Force reservists to tear down blighted houses in a city neighborhood.

About a dozen blighted properties will be razed through the program that involves members of the Air Force Reserve 910th Civil Engineer Squadron and the city, said Abigail Beniston, code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent for Youngstown.

Representatives of the city and Youngtown Air Reserve Station, where the airlift wing is based, signed a memorandum of understanding with the city Board of Control at its special meeting Tuesday morning.

Through the program, the reservist civil engineers will work with the city public works department to demolish the 12 blighted properties on East Avondale and East Boston avenues near Taft Elementary School. The initiative is part of the Air Force Community Partnership Program, an effort to identify collaborations between Air Force installations and their surrounding communities.

“Nothing quite like this” had been done or attempted, said Dignan, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing. “We have folks that have approached us about how we got this approval through. We’ve heard from folks as far away as Alabama and Arkansas.”

“[Dignan] wants the Air Reserve Station to be more involved in the community, not only in Youngstown but in Warren, so he’s been leading this community effort,” Mayor John McNally said. Most people aren’t aware of air base activities because the Air Force isn’t part of their daily lives, he said.

The city benefits by having additional manpower to take down nuisance properties and the reservists get training on demolition equipment the city demolition department has. Otherwise they likely wouldn’t have access to it.

Following a kickoff scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, the program will get underway in August, Beniston said.

The Taft school neighborhood was selected because “a large number” of its students walk to it. “So it was very important to the mayor to make sure that we clean up the area around the school so that it’s safe when those children are going to and from the building,” she said.

State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown, and Sean O’Brien, D-63 Bazetta Township, both at the meeting, hailed the project as being the first of its kind.

“I’m happy to see this collaboration. It’s exciting that we’re first in the nation. It’s groundbreaking,” Lepore-Hagan remarked.

“It’s a great opportunity,” O’Brien said.

The demolition project is just one initiative that has emerged from the community partnerships program, Dignan said. The program was launched in June 2014 locally.

First responders from more than 20 communities have participated in a training exercise at the air base that included a simulated rescue from a grain bin, Dignan said. The base is also working on an agreement to allow medical readiness training for reservists in hospitals in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, he said. “So they get realistic training that directly applies to their reserve skill sets,” he remarked.

Youngstown officials envision further projects involving 910th airmen and the public works department, such as hanging street signs.

“We all want to see how this first one goes,” McNally said.

Pictured: Air Force Col. James Dignan and Mayor John McNally sign the agreement at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Control.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.