LEETONIA — Mayor Kevin Siembida and Councilwoman Ashley Johnson recently met with faculty at Youngstown State University to discuss the preliminary stages of a partnership promoting the Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens Park.
Siembida gauged the interest of YSU faculty in using Leetonia Beehive’s Coke Ovens Park as a regional on-site educational resource. He said he would like to invest in the community by using the grant money to build a center and conservatory to facilitate interactive classroom and in-person learning.
“I could bring students here. I could bring people here to all learn together. It is a cycle and it will also facilitate the history of these ancient cities and mining towns,” he said.
Leetonia Coke Oven Park has the potential to promote downtown community redevelopment and provide opportunities for students from multiple departments.
“A huge aspect of the community is the Coke Ovens and we want to bring that into the downtown core and create a community appeal,” said Siembida. “There is no better way to do this than to try to involve the university and higher education.”
Siembida said he plans to use funds available through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources earmarked for the rehabilitation of clear-mined areas. Clearcut areas are generally defined as 20 acres where all trees have been removed.
“We have one of these areas almost in our downtown area,” said Siembida.
The target budget for the project is between $3.5 and $4 million. The ODNR could potentially provide around $3 million, while state funding could augment funds when investment is made in higher education institutions.
Over the next few months, Siembida will uncover specific grant amounts and work with the village council and trustees to meet the criteria. According to Siembida, the criteria the village received for the ODNR already look promising.
Siembida said he considers the community lucky in recent years due to an increase in economic output. General funds have grown from about $500,000 a year to over $1 million.
“We have experienced tremendous growth through our businesses,” he said. “I would like to continue on that and go from there.”
Siembida attributed the village’s growth to tax abatements and trade retention efforts. He said business income is sustainable.
Dawn Cerney, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Geography at YSU, however, examined the vulnerability to global factors of the village economic ecosystem.
“To lose any or all of these [manufacturing facilities] could turn it all around in a minute,” she says.
Cerney said she believes exploring the Coke Ovens geoheritage will help use historical and educational tourism to benefit the village economy by diversifying businesses.
“For a community to be resilient, what you need is a whole bunch of little things. So if you have 10%, you still have 90% functioning”, she explained.
Alan Tomhave, professor and head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, wants students to carry out excavations on site and merge historical and geographical data.
“I think it aligns well with the vision we have and what we want our students to do in the community,” he said.
According to Tomhave, the collaboration between YSU and surrounding communities supports the university’s regional connection.
While Tomhave couldn’t commit Youngstown State University to anything himself, he said he was eager to move discussions forward with the provost and dean of colleges.
“It is an authentic site which must be documented archaeologically and historically”, Cerney added.
Amy Fluker, associate professor of history, explained that the university already has several resources as it previously developed and interpreted some of the history associated with Leetonia Beehive’s Coke Ovens Park.
Fluker said she looks forward to the students continuing their research and developing the interpretation of the Coke Ovens site.
“I think the students and our professors in our department are perfectly prepared to really contribute to this,” Tom said.