Grandview Heights Schools in 2021: Facilities project, pandemic concerns to carry on

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Mickey Barnhouse with ACP Ohio cuts metal framing to size Dec. 18 for the new Grandview Heights Schools 4-8 building, which is adjacent to Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School.

About one year ago, Grandview Heights Schools began the first phase of its facilities project by holding a groundbreaking ceremony Jan. 11, 2020.

The new 4-8 building is expected to be completed and ready for occupancy in July 2021, but even if COVID-19 conditions improve to allow the district to hold classes in the school, the students sitting in the desks will not be from the intermediate and middle school grades.

Grandview Heights High School students will attend class in the building while the second phase of the project – the major renovation of their school – occurs.

Students in grades 4-8 will remain in their current building until the high school renovation is completed. The renovation is scheduled to be finished in December 2022.

The facilities project will continue to be one of the primary areas of focus for the district as the new year begins, Superintendent Andy Culp said.

It won't be the only ongoing matter of concern school officials will address as the calendar turns, however, he said.

"We'll be closely monitoring the data and numbers regarding COVID to determine if we're able to return to our hybrid model of learning," Culp said as the two-week winter break for students and staff approached.

"We're still anticipating switching back to the hybrid model on Jan. 11," he said. "There's nothing at this point that I expect will change that unless our COVID numbers go up dramatically."

Culp said he doesn't expect that to be the case, even with the concerns health experts have raised about the potential spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide that could result from holiday gatherings.

When Grandview Heights Schools decided to temporarily switch back Dec. 14 to remote learning, the main cause was "operational," Culp said.

The district was finding it too difficult to find substitutes to fill in for staff members who were recovering from COVID-19 or in quarantine, he said.

The remote-learning model was planned only for the last week of school before the winter break and the first week students return (Jan. 4-8), Culp said.

The students and staff who were diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantining when the remote-learning decision was made Dec. 8 were expected to be recovered and ready to return to the classroom by the end of the winter break, he said.

But an extra week of remote learning was planned "to allow us to be able to reset our COVID-19 dashboard and return to school with our full staff on Jan. 11," Culp said.

The additional week also will give the district time to identify teachers or students who develop COVID-19 or are forced to quarantine during the break and won't be able to attend classes when the hybrid model returns, he said.

The new year is beginning just as the old year ended, Culp said.

"We're regularly monitoring the data and COVID conditions and the requirements Ohio has in place to evaluate our status," he said.

The fluidity of the situation likely will last through the end of the school year, Culp said.

The pandemic has not affected the facilities project, "which is on time, on budget and on quality," he said.

The timeline set for the first phase called for the new 4-8 building to be completed in July 2021, which is still the expectation, Culp said.

The facilities project is being funded through a $55.2 million bond issue voters approved in November 2018. The bond issue will pay for the cost of constructing the new 4-8 building on the site between the current Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School and the high school, comprehensively renovating the high school and completing upgrades to Stevenson Elementary School to enhance that building's safety and security and make it ADA-compliant.

Culp said he was pleased with the progress being made on the new building when he toured the site Dec. 9.

About 80% of the roofing was finished on the building and the interior chimneys, decking around the chimneys and basement stairs were all completed, he said.

Work is continuing on exterior and interior framing and on the installation of insulation and brick on the north and west gym walls.

The exterior of the high school will retain its traditional and historic facade, but "every facet of the systems and the space inside the building will be significantly transformed to better accommodate the learning of today and of tomorrow," Culp said.

Although the total square footage of the high school will not increase, some smaller classes will be expanded in size and spaces will be reconfigured, including the second-floor media center, he said.

High school students will move back into their regular building in January 2023, and Edison/Larson students then will move into their new school.

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

The new calendar year falls in the middle of the school year.

At the beginning of each school year, the district adopts new objectives for that year to help achieve the overall goal regarding academic performance and growth that are part of its continuous-improvement plan, chief academic officer Jamie Lusher said.

The other two goals in the continuous-improvement plan involve fiscal responsibility and sustainability and operations and facilities, she said.

"The objectives change from year to year, depending on the situation and the issues we've identified as needing to be addressed at that time to best meet our students' needs," she said. "We're looking to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of our students year in and year out. That's an ongoing process."

Teachers, administrators and staff in each building are implementing a variety of action plans for each objective throughout the current school year, she said.

The objectives for the 2020-21 school year include that the superintendent will ensure universal access to a rigorous K-12 curriculum through varied modes of learning environments to support continued growth for every student.  

The district has a multitiered support system in place that helps personalize the support provided to each student based on that student's needs, whether that is a teacher spending additional time working with a student or school counselors, school psychologists, mental-health specialists or such local partners as Syntero's school-based prevention-services program to students, Lusher said.

Having the multitiered system in place has been especially beneficial to help address students' needs during the current school year, when students have spent only part of each day in the school buildings during the hybrid model or 100% out of school during remote learning, she said.

Other objectives for this school year include ensuring student learning is maximized through inclusive, authentic and personalized instruction to meet the needs of every learner and gathering and assessing relevant health and safety data as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and creating and communicating plans for potential transitions from one learning model to another.

Those plans were adopted before the current school year began, allowing the district to pivot quickly from one model to another, Culp said.

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