The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with the United States economy, but it hasn't slowed down some large-scale construction projects in Delaware County.

Among them are three at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware.

OWU is renovating the east and west wings of Smith Hall, a student dormitory at 38 S. Liberty St.; updating Branch Rickey Arena, 105 S. Sandusky St.; and building its first student apartment building, Bradford Milligan Hall, 68 S. Liberty St. near Bashford and Thomson halls.

Ohio Wesleyan spokesman Cole Hatcher said protocols have been enacted to keep workers safe, including temperature checks prior to arriving at work sites, health questionnaires, use of hand-washing stations, mask requirements and increased cleaning.

Hatcher said the Branch Rickey Arena project has an estimated $4 million cost, fully funded with contributions from alumni, parents and friends, including lead gifts from 1955 OWU graduate and life trustee Douglas H. Dittrick, a pioneer in the cable television industry, and from First Commonwealth Bank.

The project cost for Bradford Milligan Hall is $18 million. 

The hall is named in recognition of 1983 graduates Kathryn Bradford Milligan and John F. Milligan, their support for OWU's ongoing residential renewal project and their family legacies, Hatcher said.

The Milligans, residents of Hillsborough, California, lead Ohio Wesleyan's Connect Today, Create Tomorrow fundraising campaign and have pledged $10 million to the university since the seven-year effort began in 2014, Hatcher said.

The couple's latest gift was a $5 million contribution in 2019 to support the university's $60 million residential renewal project, which includes both Milligan Hall and Smith Hall, Hatcher said.

The Smith Hall work is set at $31 million for the full, two-phase renovation, Hatcher said, with $20 million covered by gifts made to the OWU Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign, as well as the proceeds from bonds sold last summer.

The gifts are vital to the construction after OWU president Rock Jones in May announced cuts totaling $10 million annually to avoid a major deficit next fiscal year.

The Columbus Dispatch reported the cuts include the elimination of 44 nonteaching positions, reduction of regular retirement contributions from 10% to 8.7% and elimination of the university's 1.5% matching contributions. Fourteen of the 44 positions eliminated currently are vacant, the university said.

OWU was forecasting a $7.5 million deficit for next school year and was reviewing ways to cut costs even before the pandemic, The Dispatch reported.

In April, OWU canceled a planned 3% tuition increase for the 2020-21 academic year.

Ohio Wesleyan's tuition will remain at $46,870 next year for all students, in-state, out-of-state and international, according to a press release. Depending on their choice of room and board, most students will pay about $1,410 less for their educations next fall.

A full 99% of OWU students receive merit- or need-based aid to lower their out-of-pocket costs, the release said.

The Smith Hall west wing is scheduled to be complete and open by August, whereas the east wing is set to open in August 2021, Hatcher said.

When the renovation is complete, Smith Hall will house first-year students -- 159 in the west wing and 239 in the east, he said.

Amenities will include Wi-Fi throughout the building, study rooms on each floor, a large common room, a second-floor kitchen and classroom, laundry facilities and a 24-hour dining hall, Hatcher said.

The $4 million arena project began in April and is expected to be finished in six months, Hatcher said.

The 44-year-old arena will receive new flooring, bleachers, scoreboards with statistics panels, lights, sound system and air conditioning, he said.

The arena's main lobby will be reconfigured, all restrooms will be refurbished, a racquetball court will be converted into a concession stand and ticket windows, and an athletics training room will be moved from the third floor to the first, Hatcher said.

Bradford Milligan Hall will be a 126-bed, 46,500-square-foot apartment building scheduled to open in May 2021, Hatcher said.

For Smith Hall and the arena, the contractor is Marker Inc. of Columbus, Hatcher said, and the Milligan Hall contractor is Adena Corp. of Westerville.

Delaware Wildlife Area shooting range

Another project unaffected by the pandemic is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' effort to renovate and relocate the shooting range in the Delaware Wildlife Area on state Route 229.

Work got underway in January, and the pandemic hasn't affected the schedule, said Eric Postell, ODNR outdoor education supervisor.

Completion of the work is anticipated for the fall, Postell said.

The state controlling board in December authorized spending $2.2 million, representing state matching funds for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant that will make up the remainder of the $9 million price tag, Postell said.

A goal of the renovation is to move the range out of the area used to contain water when the Delaware Dam, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, reduces the flow of the Olentangy River to prevent flooding downstream, he said.

The new range will be on higher ground slightly to the east of the previous location.

One element of the project, Postell said, was to remove the thousands of lead bullets fired over the years into dirt embankments at the site's rifle and pistol ranges.

Once the lead was removed and taken to a hazardous-waste facility, the shooting embankments were dismantled and the dirt was used to form new embankments, he said.

Clearing the renovation plans with the corps of engineers and a two-year property assessment by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency consumed much more time than was anticipated, Postell said.

William Street widening project

The city of Delaware's project to add a center left-turn lane along most of East William Street has continued since June 2019, with the pandemic posing no impediment.

"Just the opposite," said Lee Yoakum, the city's community-affairs coordinator.

"School closures and less traffic have allowed us to extend daily work hours and keep the project on schedule for a midsummer 2020 completion," he said.

The project is designed to reduce congestion and increase safety for the volume of traffic on East William Street, which before the pandemic was about 20,000 vehicles a day, he said.

Without the middle lane, accidents and delays often occurred as vehicles stopped to make left turns, he said.

The city has described the project as a preliminary step to be followed by plans to widen to four lanes the pavement under the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge at the Point intersection of William and Sandusky streets on the east side.

The roadway east of the Point narrows from four to two lanes as it passes under the railroad bridge.

City Manager Tom Homan in February called the project "the largest transportation project the city's ever undertaken" and said it is likely to cause "a lot of pain, I think, unfortunately."

Work is expected to begin in 2022 and take 18 to 24 months to complete, he said.

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