COLUMBIANA, Ohio – Columbiana High School students in the creative entrepreneurship class are imagining the Columbiana they will be proud to be part of in the future.
Starting soon after the beginning of the school year, the 15 students in the class taught by Tricia Missos began brainstorming ideas for the parking lot and surrounding area of Columbiana Plaza.
Tucked in off of South Main Street, the plaza is home to several businesses, including Hogan’s Bakery, Family Drugs, Crystal Dragon Family Martial Arts Center, Rankin’s Meat Market and Hair Haven.
The Holloway Insurance building is along one side of the parking lot with a long, mostly white wall, which the students see as the future home of two murals.
The students have a lot of plans for the plaza, which they admit they did not know had a name when the project began. They were not alone.
Madison Burbick, a senior who has taken the elective creative entrepreneurship class for two years, walked around and talked to the plaza business owners and employees of those businesses, many whom she found also did not know the name of the plaza.
That only proves to Burbick that the plaza needs better signage.
The current sign is a metal post with “Entrance to Columbiana Plaza” on a board at the top and smaller signs listing the businesses attached to brackets down below.
The students’ ideas would place a sign closer to the street, one with a water fountain feature and digital display, which could not only draw attention to the businesses inside the plaza but also provide space to post community events.
They would also like to place the words Columbiana Plaza on the roof of the plaza itself, along with green foliage on the roof or the nondescript ledge that runs above the front of many of the businesses.
More foliage is part of their plans within the parking lot itself. Currently, the plaza is separated from downtown by a short, stone wall with lighting along the sidewalk. The students would like to replicate the stones in the areas between the rows of cars and plant perennials such as lavender and day lilies inside the newly created walls.
They want to add additional lighting while removing the current light posts in the parking lot, which they have determined are rotting out along the bottoms.
Nick Gallo, another senior in the class, says after the class learned there was interest in redoing the lighting in the plaza lot, they first researched removing the lights and tying the plaza in with the downtown by using the same types of ornate posts with glass globes that line downtown.
Then they took it a step further and started looking at other lighting options, including placing ground lighting among the foliage and on the buildings.
“With the foliage and lighting, we want to make it feel more comforting and inviting,” Burbick says. “The plaza is very far back in an alley, and the parking lot is kind of closed off with bricks and landscaping. So with lighting and plants and foliage, we want to make it feel more inviting and more a part of Main Street and give it the aesthetic that Main Street has.”
Research is a big part of the class project. Burbick says business owners she spoke with were very interested in seeing improvements to signage and lighting in the plaza.
After speaking with Sean Holloway, the owner of Holloway Insurance, students gained ideas of what types of murals he was interested in having on the side of his building.
Burbick says students found a popular mural throughout the country would be a design that says “Greetings from Columbiana,” with city landmarks in the letters.
But based on their conversations with Holloway, student Cameron Clancy says they learned he was interested in the murals being more inclusive of the entire county.
So the students continued their research and are proposing two murals, one celebrating Columbiana and a similar one the shape of the county highlighting some of the beautiful spots throughout the area.
Initially brainstorming as three groups, the class first proposed three projects to city leaders. Now they have taken the best, most well-received ideas and honed them further.
A PowerPoint presentation has been created, and Clancy is creating a video about their project that they plan to send to Gov. Mike DeWine’s office. They also have been invited to speak to communities near Pittsburgh in February.
That is one of the reasons Burbick says she has taken the class, to improve her public speaking skills.
“Even if you don’t want to pursue a career in business, this class teaches you presentation skills, speaking skills – and those are really important to have going on to college and taking college classes,” Burbick says. “Also, it just teaches you creativity. You have to have a creative mind. You have to go outside the box. You can’t be stuck.”
Working with the City
Lance Willard, city manager of Columbiana, sees added value for the city in working with the high school students. The Rural Community Assistance Program, which the city has been working with since 2017, suggested from the beginning the city should engage with the area’s youth in any plans for the downtown’s future.
When Burbick spoke to business owners about the project, they also were interested in the students’ ideas.
“They want to see the city go forward with our ideas,” Burbick says. “That makes me feel grateful that I live in a city where they want to see the young adults’ ideas.”
Besides providing Columbiana with some fresh ideas about what the students want to see in their hometown, Willard hopes it sparks their sense of pride.
“When we interviewed the previous classes, they said they would look forward to bringing their families back to something they have done here in town,” Willard says. It is important to have the students buy into the whole process of community involvement, especially if they become future business and community leaders.
Willard says at the beginning of this school year, the city gave the students a list of about six projects, and they landed on improvements to the parking lot area.
He talks about the importance of handing them a blank slate, without a sense of general direction or a budget, just to watch and see where their ideas take them.
Willard cites an observation that Mark Lamoncha, CEO of Humtown Products and also a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, says about today’s students.
“The youth, they don’t think inside the box. They don’t think outside the box. They don’t even know there’s a box,” Willard says, quoting Lamoncha.
Missos, the creative entrepreneurship teacher, agrees it is important to let the students’ creativity flow and not get in the way.
“The kids, honestly, you just give them what you want them to work on and they go with it,” Missos says. “It’s been so amazing to watch over the years. Because things we think of as adults, they think completely different as children or young adults, and it’s just been phenomenal to watch.”
Missos lets them brainstorm and play ideas off each other. And even when an idea seems shaky to her, she resists the urge to step in and tell them her opinion.
“They asked for a crazy, more unique idea,” Gallo says. “We thought about adding a rooftop deck. We thought we could use some of the local businesses such as Hogan’s or Generations coffee shop. There’s no real place to have a view of the city of Columbiana, so a rooftop deck is pretty unique.
Not too many people have them around here, so we figured it should get a pretty good use out of it.”
The rooftop deck is currently in the proposal, along with a companion project to fix and make more inviting an alleyway that Gallo calls “sketchy” and leads up to the roof.
Students have looked at some of the impediments to the idea and created solutions for them, including two ways to get off the roof in case of a fire and a plan for a seating area with lighting that would withstand weather conditions such as heat and rain.
Students have every reason to believe the city will help them bring some, if not all, of their ideas to life.
And Willard agrees. “We had such a great success with the Columbiana Corridor,” the city manager says.
The Corridor was a project the creative entrepreneurship class took on two years ago, turning a vacant area between buildings into a gathering place with signage, lighting and picnic tables.
After similar brainstorming sessions, those students shared their ideas with city leadership. Willard says that project was brought to fruition with the help of donations and grants.
Local businesses Compco and Diamond Steel, for instance, provided the signage, and other expenses were paid through a grant from the Columbiana Community Foundation.
While there is no funding in place for the current student project, Willard points out passion for the project will drive them to find funding sources down the road.
The ideas for the corridor project, last year’s project involving a concession stand at the swimming pool at the park and what the current class of students is working on are “consulting-grade quality,” Willard says.
The students’ ideas give the city a chance to improve amenities, which will have a lasting economic development impact. And students get a chance to improve their skills.
For instance, without reading from a script, each student narrates a part of the presentation.
When the groups presented their ideas to the city council, Willard says council members were blown away by their presentations and the skills those students in grades 10 through 12 already possess.
Besides getting to know city leaders like Willard, the mayor and council, the students have worked with the owners of the parking lot and buildings, as well as other businesses in the community.
Willard hopes working with the city, making more connections with business people and developing pride in their community will carry over later in life when the students are making decisions about their futures.
“Hopefully, if they go to college or if they do open up a business, they will end up in Columbiana long-term, rather than leaving the area,” Willard says.
For the students, the fact that the city takes their proposals seriously means a lot.
“It’s really valuable,” Gallo says. “I just know I’m going to come back someday, and I can look back at what we’ve done. I’m going to be able to say I was a part of this. I was able to brainstorm these ideas. If I see someone getting joy or pleasure out of it, it obviously makes me feel better about myself.”
Missos says some of the young adults who have graduated from the creative entrepreneurship program have already contacted her to tell her how they have used the skills they have gained. For instance, one student was able to present at college a proposal to bring a Wendy’s to the campus.
“I think once they leave here, they realize what an impact they have had within the city and their school. And I think they really appreciate the opportunity,” Missos says.
Pictured at top: Students in the Columbiana High School creative entrepreneurship class, seated from left, are Delaney Dixon, Adalyn Quigley, Maxx Grommes and Parker Kistler. Standing are Cameron Clancy, Dylan Hogan, Anthony Hall, Robert Struharik, Ian Less, Alex Eusebio, Garon Pedicini and Calleigh Kufleitner.