State and local officials gathered Dec. 15 at the Delaware Area Career Center's south campus to celebrate an early holiday gift: work resuming on a $45 million expansion and renovation project.
The center's board paused the project, which began in September 2016, last summer after the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled an error by the Delaware County Board of Elections invalidated the center's 1.7-mill levy.
Although Delaware County voters overwhelmingly voted to renew the levy in 2015, the issue was nowhere to be found on ballots in portions of neighboring counties served by the center.
The center held a beam-signing ceremony last week to celebrate the results of an unprecedented revote conducted in November to reverse the invalidation.
State Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township), the lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation that authorized the do-over, attended the ceremony.
Superintendent Mary Beth Freeman said the move to add 2017's votes from neighboring counties to Delaware County's results from 2015 was "an unprecedented scenario." Work resumed on the project after voters in Franklin, Marion, Morrow and Union counties cast their ballots.
Freeman said she may have appeared calm last year after learning the center's funding was in jeopardy, but in reality, she was stunned.
"I was probably in disbelief and I thought, 'This can't be happening and there must be an easy solution to this,' " she said.
While the Supreme Court of Ohio's March ruling made it clear there would be no easy solution, Freeman said Brenner and Carfagna made sure there was a viable one.
Carfagna said it's Freeman who deserves credit for her "inspirational" leadership after the levy's viability came into question. He said Freeman acted to ensure the center's consolidation project, which he called "an investment in the future," would continue.
"What this represents is a frontier of opportunity, I think, to our young men and women," he said of the expansion project at the south campus in Liberty Township.
Brenner said he was impressed by the construction project at the campus, which sits off U.S. Route 23 just outside Delaware's city limits.
"This looks like it's going to be a great project once it's completed," he said.
Brenner said Freeman and the center's board deserve credit for helping state lawmakers realize the importance of the legislation that led to the revote.
The center plans to close its north campus in Brown Township and move all staff and students to the expanded south campus by the start of the 2019-20 school year.
The invalidation of the levy cost the center time, but also money. Officials with Elford Construction estimated costs related to the pause in work at about $2.75 million.
Delaware County has agreed to buy the center's north campus for $1.77 million. County officials plan to renovate the facility and use it for offices.