South-Western City School District in 2021: OFCC project to pick up steam

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Deidre Rath, a head cook with the South-Western City School District, arranges food bags while cook Jennifer Meyerin hands food to Amanda Dewalt during a food pickup at Grove City High School on Dec. 16.

For the South-Western City School District, a new calendar year means students again get to attend class in their buildings on a part-time basis under the district's blended-learning model.

It also means construction work in the second phase of the district's Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project will go full time.

"People will be able to expect to see steel begin rising from the ground in mid-January, weather permitting" Superintendent Bill Wise said.

The $193 million OFCC project includes the construction of new buildings for the district's four oldest middle schools – Brookpark, Finland, Norton and Pleasant View – and renovations at Jackson Middle School. The second phase also includes renovations at East Franklin Elementary School. The new school buildings are scheduled to open in the fall of 2022.

"We're going to deliver four 801-student-capacity, 116,000-square-foot middle schools that will have updated architecture, improved technology, increased energy efficiency and auxiliary gyms to support our athletics" and provide additional space for nonathletic programs and events, Wise said.

The renovations at Jackson Middle School will bring that building up to the standard of the other schools, except that Jackson will have a state-of-the-art multipurpose room rather than an auxiliary gym, he said.

Voters approved a 38-year, $93.4 million bond issue in November 2018 to pay for the district's share of the second phase of the OFCC project.

The OFCC, the state agency that partners with school districts on construction projects, is providing about $60 million, or about half, of the project's costs.

No OFCC funds will be used for the asphalt and roofing repairs throughout the district that also are slated to be completed as part of the second phase, Wise said.

As with the first bond issue for the first phase of the OFCC project, which involved building new elementary schools and a new Franklin Heights High School, investors are able to find South-Western a low risk, treasurer Hugh Garside said.

Both Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service have assigned the district a good credit rating, he said. Moody's rating was Aa2; S&P's was AA.

Those ratings also will help if and when the district proceeds with a third OFCC project to address other facilities needs, Garside said.

The more pressing issue had been whether students were going to be able to return to their schools as planned Jan. 5, Wise said.

"We're staying in contact with our public health officials, following their recommendations and following the data to make our decisions" moving forward, he said.

"It's a challenging time for everyone," Wise said.

School board president Robert Ragland said the district's administrators, teachers and staff deserve accolades for their dedication to educating students regardless of the learning model.

Some of the partnerships the district has in place have proved to be particularly beneficial during this unexpected and unprecedented time, Wise said.

"We have 14 Community in Schools staff members working to support students who have needs that go beyond academics but can impact their success in school," he said. "They are helping students who may have housing issues, need to get an alarm clock, need to find additional clothing or who may be facing food insecurity."

The partnership with I Know I Can provides college-success coaches and college-advising managers to work with students at all four South-Western high schools, he said.

Making one's way through the college-application process is especially difficult due to the pandemic, Wise said.

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