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YOUNGSTOWN — A proposed broadband project intended to provide internet services to the homes of Youngstown City School students and employees, and possibly a wider portion of the community, was dropped by school district CEO Justin Jennings after he came under fire with questions on cost.

It died Wednesday evening after Youngstown city officials said they understood the school district had signed a $17 million contract with Insight Enterprises to create the infrastructure needed for the services.

Jennings, however, on Wednesday afternoon denied that a $17 million contract ever existed.

The CEO did say there was an agreement for the company to do some initial work to determine the parameters of such a project, if it had gone forward.

“I’m pulling the plug,” Jennings said after several calls about the contract were made to him by The Vindicator.

‘OUTRAGEOUS’

Insight representatives met with district and city officials earlier on the day Wednesday to outline what the company would need to do the work.

City Law Director Jeff Limbian left the meeting stating he was shocked that Jennings was able to enter into the multimillion dollar, five-year contract without seeking multiple bids.

“Frankly, it’s outrageous,” Limbian said.

Others at the meeting in Jennings’ conference room at the district office besides Limbian were Nikki Posterli, the mayor’s chief of staff and community planning and economic development director; Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; Steve Kristan, Eastgate’s broadband coordinator; and Nick Chretien, co-founder and program manager of Economic Action Group.

Jennings came into the meeting briefly with Limbian saying he told the CEO he wasn’t happy with the contract. Limbian said Jennings had little reaction.

“I expressed my frustration with this,” Limbian said.

Limbian and Kinnick said they were not provided a copy of the contract, but were told it was for $17 million with internet service provided for five years by Insight. Kinnick added the contract was to start next July 1.

“I come from government with oversight,” Limbian said. “This was done unilaterally” by Jennings. “We were told it’s signed, sealed and equipment is ordered to provide internet services for a portion of the students in the city school district.”

The contract would have allowed the district to provide internet service to an undetermined number of city school students.

BUY-IN

Prior to pulling the plug on the project, Jennings discussed trying to get buy-in from the city and others because, if the district did the project on its own, the service would have been limited to district students and employees. Having support from other entities would have allowed the service to be available to a wider portion of the community.

The school district wanted to use the city’s “buildings, towers and (utility) poles to spread this mesh internet across the city,” Limbian said.

Limbian said it was “concerning” that city officials were brought into this “at the last minute.”

“I question whether we should allow it because of liability to our infrastructure. City council and the mayor would have to decide how much involvement we want in this process,” he said.

Limbian also said: “Isn’t there a more effective way to spend $17 million that would allow all children in the district to be treated equally? We were shaking our heads in disbelief that he can do this with the stroke of a pen to give some kids internet access without any oversight.”

Kinnick said he was willing to reserve judgment until receiving more details.

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