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Build needed trust

At first glance, it seems strange that members of two public bodies dedicated to the welfare of Steubenville residents would not trust one another. Blame their members’ experience with disagreements over just what is best for the community.

Surely enough trust — backed up with a well-crafted written agreement — can be mustered to do something very nice at the city’s Jim Wood Park, however.

A few weeks ago, officials of the Steubenville City Schools system proposed making significant improvements to the park, at a cost estimated at about $500,000. A new baseball facility, refurbished soccer field with space for several teams, relocated and upgraded playground and enhanced walking track are among the school district’s proposals.

There is a catch, of course.

City officials would have to either sell or lease the park to the school system. Taxpayers’ money earmarked for public education cannot be spent on property not owned or otherwise controlled by the school district.

Some members of Steubenville City Council, along with some in the public, have reservations about the plan. For one thing, the baseball field would not be open to the public. It would be limited to use by Steubenville High School and Steubenville Catholic Central High School.

That is understandable. Wear and tear on the field from public use could make it difficult to maintain in a condition suitable for high school teams.

Some skeptics worry about whether other areas of the park would be open to all. Steubenville High School Principal Ted Gorman notes the district has “a track record” of encouraging public use of facilities. But, he adds, “it has to come down to trust.”

School officials plan to hold public meetings to outline their proposal, perhaps in late March or April. In the meantime, school and municipal officials should be discussing how a sale or lease agreement could be written to ensure the public has access to most park facilities. Surely something satisfactory can be worked out to allow the public school system to proceed with a plan that could benefit all Steubenville residents.

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