By Dedra Cordle
It was the day of the election and Brenda Bronder was equal parts nervous and hopeful.
On the ballot was a bond issue that would allow the South-Western City Schools District to enter into a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission in order to replace 14 schools and renovate two others.
Among those schools on the replacement list was West Franklin Elementary where Bronder had worked as the librarian for the past six years.
Thinking of the cramped quarters at the school and the desperate need for upgrades and expansion, she watched anxiously as the results came in that night.
When she realized that voters had approved the bond issue, she let out a big cheer.
“I was like ‘Yippee!’” she said with a laugh.
That initial burst of excitement was soon followed by a sigh when she discovered that the replacement of West Franklin would take part in phase three of the $270 million project.
But as the time came to exit the building and relocate to another school while West Franklin was being demolished and rebuilt, she felt a sense of sadness with the project that brought so much happiness to her and others.
“It was very bittersweet,” she said. “My boys went to West Franklin so I have a lot of good memories about this place, but we needed it so badly.”
Like many schools in the district at the time, West Franklin was built in an era where the need for Wi-Fi access and other advanced technological capabilities was not quite an imperative.
With that knowledge and the realization that the schools would be at or over capacity due to the growth in population in mind, the district decided to combat the problem by putting a combined operating levy and bond issue on the 2008 ballot. It failed.
Regrouping, the district chose to split the issues apart and focused on getting an operating levy passed.
When voters approved that levy the following year, the district began discussing with the community the importance of the bond issue and stressed that the passage of the issue would come at no increased cost to them as taxpayers.
Like Bronder, district Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise was also nervous yet hopeful when the voters took to the polls on March 6, 2012.
“I was a little confident about (the bond issue being approved) because we had spent a great deal of time meeting with community groups and I felt they listened well to the details of the project and what our vision was for the future,” he said.
Still, there was that thought in the back of his head that said it might not pass.
“You’re just never quite sure about what is going to happen on election night,” Wise said.
When it did pass, Wise was elated because it meant that 13 elementary schools would be replaced, two others would be renovated and a new Franklin Heights High School would be constructed.
However, he didn’t have time to celebrate for there was much to be done.
Dr. David Williamson, the executive director of the OFCC, called the project one of the most aggressive projects they have undertaken.
“This project demanded a very aggressive schedule,” he said, referring to the fact that all of the 14 replacement schools were slated to be completed within three years.
He said it was hard and exhausting work for all of the entities and all of the hundreds of individuals involved in the project but it was worth it just to see the reaction from students, parents and teachers as they walk into their new school building.
“Just look at how excited they are,” he said, pointing to the wide grins plastered on so many faces during the dedication ceremony at West Franklin on Aug. 23. “They make it all worthwhile.”
The project, which began with the ground breaking of Alton Hall, Harmon, Monterey and Prairie Norton Elementary Schools in phase one in the spring of 2013 was declared complete with the opening of four of the phase three schools – Highland Park, Prairie Lincoln Richard Avenue and West Franklin – in the summer of 2016.
Though some modest work remains – the tennis courts at Franklin Heights High School are still being constructed and there is some landscaping to be done – Wise said the start of the new school year marks the end of all major construction.
He said he was grateful and appreciative to everyone in the community for their support on the bond issue, their patience with the construction, their tolerance of the shuffling between buildings and to everyone else who had a role in this project.