Superintendent Diane Mankins said she was "shocked, surprised, excited" to learn the state has awarded the Marysville school district a $12,497,282 grant as seed money to start an early college high school.
The grant is among 24 chosen to receive funding from the Ohio Department of Education's new Straight A Fund after what the department called "a rigorous screening process." The State Controlling Board is expected to give final approval to the awards Dec. 16.
The district didn't expect to learn whether its application had been approved until mid-December, but the phone call came on Dec. 6.
"Certainly, my initial reaction was excitement, and now it's trying to get our plan going," Mankins said.
A total of 24 grants from more than 150 individual entities were recommended for a total of $88.6 million in funding by the Straight A Fund Governing Board.
The Marysville project involves a consortium of partners, including the Ohio Hi-Point Joint Vocational School District, Columbus State Community College, Honda of America Manufacturing, the Union County Chamber of Commerce and EDWorks, working together to create the Marysville Early College High School and Union County Innovation Center.
According to the grant application, this will be Ohio's first manufacturing-related STEM early college high school.
"By using EDWorks' 'Fast Track' school design, the consortium will increase achievement for students as they earn 45-60 college credits and a high school diploma in four years," the grant description said.
The school will be housed in the old Marysville Middle School at 833 N. Maple St., but Mankins said much work must be done to get the building ready.
The space will serve nearly 2,000 youths and adults by 2019 but will start with approximately 100 freshmen for the 2014-2015 school year, she said.
The admission processes for the school still need to be worked out.
"Kathy McKinnis will take the lead on this project as the principal of the early college high school," Mankins said.
McKinnis is currently the principal at Bunsold Middle School.
According to Mankins, McKinnis and her leadership team will start working on how to develop an application or admission process for students who want to attend the early college school.
District administrators met with an architect this week. Mankins said officials have to move quickly to get the Maple Street building ready.
"You have to have all of the money encumbered (committed) by June 30 and then spent by Sept. 30," she said. "Our goal is to have the building renovated and ready for teachers to move in to meet an August time frame."
The old middle school will be renovated to accommodate the three pathways of the early college school.
Only two -- manufacturing and IT -- will be developed during this first phase of getting the school established.
The third pathway will be medical services.
"Manufacturing includes everything such as a robust robotics lab with large-scale robots," Mankins said. "We'll have a state-of-the-art welding lab with Edison Technology. It will have CAD, pre-engineering, CNC and PLC as well. It will also have IT from a multimedia standpoint -- design and gaming, and also networking -- more of the technician-oriented side."
The idea is to create an open lounge "college-campus feel," according to Mankins.
"It will also have huge open learning spaces with high-top tables and booths with plug-ins and small TVs to plug into for the computers," she said.
The information center and auditorium in the building will be redesigned. The current area that houses the YMCA and the Marysville High School gymnastics teams will remain untouched.
Students who attend the early college school will pay no extra costs, just normal school fees, according to Mankins.
She said the school district plans to operate the building with current staffing levels.
"Part of the grant was we had to prove it was self-sustaining over time," she said. "This is basically just seed money to get the project started and then we have to be able to maintain it.
"Columbus State and Hi-Point and Honda are all our partners in that, so we'll be looking to share resources," she added.
"This is, by design, an opportunity for us to create more opportunities for kids to go to college and to get some college credits under their belt before they ever leave high school," Mankins said. "It's about decreasing remediation rates and increasing enrollment for our students going to post-secondary education."