West Side News

District breaks ground for new schools

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Monterey Elementary students assemble for a group photo taken from a bucket truck for the new-school groundbreaking ceremony Friday, May 31.

South-Western City Schools last week celebrated breaking ground on the construction of four new elementary schools -- Alton Hall, Harmon, Monterey and Prairie Norton elementary schools.

Ceremonies involving each school's current students were held prior to their release for summer break, May 29-31. The projects mark commencement of phase 1 of the district's much anticipated school building campaign.

"It's an exciting way to end the school year," Superintendent Bill Wise said. "It's especially nice to be able to include our students in these ceremonies. It makes it special for them."

The $250 million Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project will be done in three phases, and includes: the replacement of 13 elementary school buildings, including Finland and East Franklin schools being combined into one larger building; a new building for Franklin Heights High School, and; upgrades to Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods elementary schools.

The district is receiving more than $120 million in state funds for the project, matching district taxpayers' contribution..

At each groundbreaking ceremony, students were among those who got to pose for commemorative pictures wearing helmets and holding shovels. Parents, administrators, school board members and representatives of the project's architect and contractor also participated.

Each Monterey Elementary fourth-grade class took its turn at the school's May 31 ceremony. At the conclusion of the event, all classes posed for a picture by the dig site taken from a bucket-truck.

In his remarks at the Monterey ceremony, Board of Education President Randy Riesling noted the project will not only give students a "new building with four walls" but a site that will offer access to technological innovations, more classroom space and greater safety and security.

With the completion of the school year, work at each site was expected to begin in earnest Monday, June 3, Wise said.

After all the work of passing a bond issue and planning for the first phase, holding the groundbreaking ceremony "makes the project real," he said.

Much of the initial work over the summer will entail preparing for the return of students in the fall and making sure activities in the current buildings proceed safely while construction on the new schools continues, Wise said.

The additional space the new school buildings will provide allows the district to consider the possibility of offering all-day, every day kindergarten classes, Wise said. The school board has directed the administration to explore the feasibility of beginning to implement all day, every day kindergarten in 2015.

Replacing the aging buildings with schools that offer more classroom space, natural light and better air quality, "will make them much better learning environments for our students," he said.

Construction of the first four elementary buildings is expected to be completed in the fall of 2014.

The old Harmon, Prairie Norton and Monterey buildings will serve as "swing sites," hosting students from West Franklin, Prairie Lincoln and Richard Avenue schools, respectively, while their new buildings are constructed in the next phase of the building campaign.