After four years of discussion and planning, work is about to begin on the first phase of Grandview Heights Schools' facilities project.

Fencing around the project area was erected Jan. 27.

"We expect the initial work to begin on or around Feb. 10," said Jay Tadena, project manager with the Corna Kokosing and Elford Construction team overseeing the project

"The initial work will involve earth-moving, underground utilities preparations and (small demolition) work that will allow the new middle school building to connect to the existing high school," Tadena said.

A small portion of the high school building will be razed, including the stairs at the west entrance to the gym that lead to the mezzanine and second floor, three offices adjacent to the wrestling room and a science-class greenhouse on the second floor, he said.

"They need to be temporarily removed to allow for their new spaces to be created," Tadena said.

The demolition work is set to be completed over three consecutive weekends in March, he said.

"There will be some noise and vibrations that will occur, so we thought it best to do the work over the weekend when students aren't attending class in the high school," Tadena said. "We didn't want to be disruptive to the students' learning."

The demolition work will take place between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, March 7-22.

Neighbors can expect construction noise, falling demolition debris and the sounds of equipment running and beeping, Superintendent Andy Culp said.

The preliminary earth-moving, underground and demolition work is expected to take place February through April, Tadena said.

The actual construction of the new building will begin in May, he said.

"That's when you'll start seeing things going vertical," Tadena said.

The first phase of the $55.2 million project will involve construction of a new grades 4-8 building in the area between the current Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School building and Grandview Heights High School.

"I think the students, staff and most of the community are really excited about this project getting officially underway," Culp said. "At times it seems almost surreal that it's actually starting because it's been a long journey of community engagement and planning to get to this point."

The design of the new building will incorporate many of the elements and themes students, staff and community members identified as important during the community engagement and schematic design process, he said.

That includes constructing a building that offers full ADA compliance and access and provides a safe and secure environment for students, with secure entrance vestibules, sprinkler systems and security cameras, Culp said.

"Another theme in terms of form and functionality is creating flexible learning environments for our students," he said.

Collaborative learning spaces will be installed outside the classrooms where students will be able to gather for special instruction or to work on group projects, Culp said.

"We'll have seamless access to technology throughout the building," he said.

Science classrooms and labs will be "significantly improved" to allow for increased opportunities for inquiry-based learning, Culp said.

In general, "we are maximizing the utilization of square footage in the new building," he said. "There won't be a lot of dead space. We've spent a significant amount of time thinking about how to maximize the learning spaces in form and function."

The interior design maximizes natural light through windows and skylights, Culp said.

"It's important to provide a learning environment where you can see outside," he said. "People feel better about themselves and learning when they can see and get natural light."

The connector that will be built between the high school and new building will include a kitchen to serve separate cafeterias for the 4-8 building and high school, Culp said. The second floor of the connector will house the district's administrative offices.

The construction of the new 4-8 building is expected to be completed in July 2021.

Students will continue to attend class in the current Edison/Larson and high school buildings during construction, Culp said.

The second phase of the project will involve a major renovation of the high school. During that phase, which is expected to last from summer 2021 through January 2023, high school students will attend class in the new building, and students in grades 4-8 will continue to attend the old Edison/Larson building.

High school students will move back into their regular building in January 2023 and the younger students then will move into the new building.

The third phase of the project will involve demolition of the old Edison/Larson building and site restoration.

"I hope that people see this long-term investment as benefiting our students and the community for the long term, not only from a financial point of view, but from an educational and community standpoint as well," Culp said. "It's a project where we're honoring tradition and building excellence."

The facilities project is the result of a community discussion and consideration of how the district could best address the deferred maintenance work needed at its school buildings, he said.

"When I started here five years and seven months ago, I was aware that there were these maintenance issues at these historic facilities, but this type of project was not on our radar when I began," Culp said.

The district had $550,000 of permanent-improvement funds available each year, half of which was earmarked for technology, he said.

"That left only $275,000 annually to spend on keeping up on deferred maintenance," Culp said.

An assessment of the district's four buildings, including the kindergarten annex completed in 2016 by Harrison Planning Group, estimated a total cost of $44 million to complete all the needed renovations, treasurer Beth Collier said.

The total was $18 million for the Edison/Larson building, she said.

Adding in an anticipated 5% for inflation would have increased that total by about $1 million annually, Collier said.

Voters approved a 7.51-mill bond issue in November 2018 for the facilities project, but the actual increase in school taxes property owners are paying is only 2.81 mills, she said.

The reduction is due to a previous bond issue expiring at the end of 2019 and a revised school compensation agreement among the district, the city and Nationwide Realty Investors that provides the district with more revenue from the Grandview Yard development, Collier said.