Huge school construction projects underway in the Dayton area

More than $650 million in taxpayer-approved funding in the Dayton area is going toward an unusually large number of school districts constructing new school buildings, moving into new buildings this fall, or preparing for new building projects.

The school facilities work ranges from a massive five-year, $158 million project at the Miami Valley Career Tech Center, to a tentative plan for a $7 million addition in Huber Heights, to an $18 million project in Oakwood that just renovated existing buildings.

Fairborn schools are in the middle of a large school construction project, and district treasurer Kevin Philo’s list of reasons why the multimillion-dollar investment is worthwhile echoed some other districts.

Philo cited 50-70-year-old school infrastructure that doesn’t fit with changing education and technology needs, adding that education itself if more important in a knowledge economy. He also cited competition, as people moving to the area a few years ago chose Huber Heights’ new buildings rather than Fairborn’s water leaks and lack of air conditioning.

And Fairborn officials cited two financial reasons. Philo said the interest rates they got last year (2.65%) were the lowest in 50 years, allowing Fairborn to get “more building for the money.”

District spokeswoman Pam Gayheart said the state’s eventual $33 million share convinced many people to vote in favor of local taxes to pay for the project.

“With the state giving that percentage off, I think that was the boost our community needed after seeing the condition of our buildings,” Gayheart said. “(People said) we’re crazy not to take advantage of this.”

State, local history

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which funds a share of the costs in most local projects, said the surge in Dayton-area school construction is not part of a statewide trend. OFCC spokesman J.C. Benton said there are currently 28 OFCC projects in the design phase and 52 in active construction. Those numbers are down from 37 and 68, respectively, in Fiscal Year 2019.

State funding for school construction projects was much higher from 2007 to 2011 (almost $1 billion per year) when tobacco settlement money was available, according to the OFCC. Since 2013, that funding has been in the $250-$400 million range annually.

The Dayton area saw a surge in new school construction from 2003 to 2013 — Dayton opened two dozen new schools and Mad River opened seven; Trotwood, Brookville, New Lebanon and Bellbrook opened new schools from 2004-06; Miamisburg opened three schools from 2008-11; and Xenia and Beavercreek opened a combined seven new schools in 2012-13.

Construction hasn’t stopped since then, but it has slowed locally. Among bigger projects, Northmont opened its new high school in 2016, Northridge and Carlisle opened completely redone K-12 campuses in 2019 and 2020, and Kettering opened a self-funded career tech addition in 2020.

Ongoing construction

** Fairborn: Thanks to voters approving a 2016 bond levy, the district already finished a new Primary school that opened in 2020, and they’re mid-construction on the Intermediate school slated for fall 2022, with the state chipping in nearly half of the $51 million for those two buildings.

A separate bond levy that voters approved in 2020 will pay for all of a $70 million high school, arts center and athletics complex. Groundwork on that site began in June, and district officials are targeting a January 2024 opening, barring supply-chain problems.

After the high school is open, Baker Middle School students will move into the current high school, and the district will use $33 million in OFCC money to build a new middle school next to the new high school, although that timetable is uncertain.

** Franklin: The school district broke ground on its new high school two weeks ago, after voters approved a large bond issue in November. Local bond funds will pay for the high school (target opening, fall 2023) and to renovate the existing high school into a middle school. A few years later, the state share of $25.3 million will be used to replace Franklin’s five elementary schools and one early childhood center with three new elementaries.

Superintendent Mike Sander said asbestos abatement on the existing junior high will begin in October, and demolition of the 100-year-old building will occur in November and December.

“The junior high students are housed in modular classrooms behind Franklin High School, and will be there this year and next school year,” Sanders said. “But these modular classrooms are not like the portable classrooms that schools used to have.”

** Miami Valley CTC: The remodel and expansion project for the regional career tech center — funded by a 2017 voter bond issue plus $28 million in state funds — is nearing 50% completion, according to Superintendent Nick Weldy. Two wings are already completed, and student capacity will expand.

** West Carrollton: Just off busy Central Avenue, construction continues on the new West Carrollton Early Childhood Center, which will house preschool, kindergarten and first grade. On Dixie Drive, the new West Carrollton Intermediate School is under construction on the existing CF Holliday site. It will house grades 5-6. Walls are up on both buildings, which are scheduled to open in fall 2022.

Projects wrapping up

** Greenon: The district just northeast of Fairborn opened its brand-new $50 million K-12 campus on Sept. 7. Superintendent Darrin Knapke touted courtyard amphitheater spaces where classes can be held outdoors, movable classroom walls to allow for co-teaching, and technology advantages including 75-inch SMART Boards and labs. The complex also has air conditioning, which the former schools lacked.

** Oakwood: The district is down to final “punch-list” items for its $18 million Phase 1 renovation project on multiple schools, which district officials said has a final completion date of Nov. 30 and is coming in within 1% of budget.

While boiler replacement and bathroom work was done at the elementary schools, most of the project was at the high school/junior high complex. Those buildings saw roof and ceiling replacements, new HVAC systems, new wiring and LED lighting, reconstruction of bathrooms and asbestos removal, funded by a bond issue approved by voters in 2019.

** Waynesville: Wayne Local Schools is celebrating the opening of their new elementary school this fall. Superintendent Pat Dubbs said the list of improvements is massive, from air conditioning, to better security, larger classroom spaces and better electrical and wireless capacity to support educational technology. He called the new media center’s design “spectacular.”

“When you talk about being in a building that had parts built in 1915 and the 1930s … these kind of things are just a huge leap forward for our kids,” Dubbs said. “We talked about how this new school would make a difference in our kids’ learning every day.”

The district has already begun the next step — construction of a student center with a fine arts focus. Dubbs said it will include a multipurpose auditorium with moveable seating for 425, plus an all-glass lobby area that can hold events for 100-plus. It connects to the one wing of the old elementary school that was kept.

Upcoming construction

** Bethel: Groundbreaking is scheduled Oct. 28 for the Miami County district’s new $28.5 million K-5 school building and athletic complex, which will go on the north side of the existing school complex with a target opening in fall 2023. The fast-growing district just built a new high school wing in 2017.

Superintendent Justin Firks said Bethel is using its own funds and tax increment financing to pay the costs up front. He said the district will earn credit from the OFCC and “the state will be paying 78% of the total cost of the project once our number is called in 6-8 years for the next phase.”

** Huber Heights: The school board is expected to vote Oct. 2 on a $7 million expansion, both for new career tech space at the high school, and for “maker-spaces” at the elementary schools. Spokeswoman Cassie Dietrich said the idea came out of the district’s strategic planning process, which had a focus on “real-world learning, the return of skilled trades, and career readiness.”

** Valley View: The district plans to break ground on a $68 million K-12 campus in spring 2022, adjacent to the existing high school, with hopes for a fall 2024 grand opening. Residents voted down bond requests in 2016 and 2017 but said yes in spring 2020 to a plan that will receive $39 million from the OFCC. Two of Valley View’s existing schools are about 100 years old.

** Xenia: In May, voters approved a $36.2 million bond issue to pay for replacement of the 1960s-era Warner Middle School. District plans call for a design team of administrators, teachers and community members to work with architects to determine the look of the facility, which will sit immediately adjacent to the current Warner that will be demolished.

On the ballot soon

** Yellow Springs: The district is asking voters to approve a November ballot issue that combines a 0.5% income tax with a 6.5-mill property tax to fund a $35.6 million K-12 school campus at the existing high school/middle school site. The OFCC would reimburse $9.3 million.

Coming Monday and Tuesday

The Miami Valley Career Technology Center and West Carrollton schools embark on giant building projects.

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