School district plans to build new learning center


By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The South-Western City Schools Board of Education has approved the use of federal dollars to build a new learning center for students on the westside.

At a meeting held earlier this spring, the board granted authorization for the district to seek bids for a contract that would oversee the construction of a new Stiles Family Resource Center in order to meet the demands of the growth in the area.

The scope of the project will entail building a standalone facility to the west of the current site, which is slightly adjacent to Stiles Elementary School. It will house 10 permanent classrooms with an alternate bid for 12 classrooms. It will also include office spaces, meeting spaces, and a health clinic.

According to Evan Debo, the district’s executive director of communications, the existing Stiles Family Resource Center location was built nearly three decades ago and it can no longer withstand the current and projected growth of the population on the western boundary.

“Due to growing early childhood enrollments and a rising need for special education interventions at the preschool level, the building is outgrowing its physical location,” said Debo. “Coupled with an aging facility, primarily made up of modular components, the site was identified (by the district) as a development project to serve both academic groups with 21st century amenities.”

The current timeline for the project calls for the construction of the new Stiles Family Resource Center to begin in the fall of 2023. If all goes according to plan and there are no delays in the procurement of building materials, the learning facility should be completed in the late spring/early summer of 2024.

The district will continue to host special education specific classrooms and the Head Start program at the current site. Debo said the construction of the new facility will not impact their operations.

“Programming at the SFRC will not be impacted by the construction project as the project will take shape independent of the current SFRC footprint in the lot area to the west of the facility,” he said.

The construction of the new Stiles Family Resource Center is estimated to be $5.8 million. The district will utilize the federal dollars it received as a part of the third phase of the American Rescue Plan and The Elementary and Secondary School Elementary Relief Fund (ARP-ESSER).

According to an interview with Treasurer High Garside about the funds earlier this year, the district has received an allocation of $61.5 million through the ESSER III program. Under the federal guidelines to access these funds, 20 percent had to be put aside to implement learning loss objectives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the district has spent more than $14 million to combat learning loss by hiring additional counselors, intervention specialists, social workers, and student support liaisons; offering online tutoring services; building a more robust summer school program; providing Chromebooks to all students; and partnering with organizations such as the YMCA of Central Ohio to provide social and emotional needs for students.

The ESSER III dollars have also been utilized to make infrastructure upgrades within the district, much like they are doing with the Stiles Family Resource Center. According to Debo, these are the projects that have taken place or are currently underway:
•HVAC work at all of the intermediate schools on the southwest and westside.
•The replacement of chiller units at seven buildings with a projected completion by mid-fall.
•An addition at Hayes Intermediate School.
•Roof repair and replacement at the recreation centers.
•The replacement of removable walls at Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods with solid blocks for infrastructure and safety upgrades.
•An event center expansion at the South-Western Career Academy, which is slated to be complete in 2024.
•Planned HVAC work at Central Crossing High School and the SWCA.
•Planned sound and lighting equipment upgrades to the high school auditoriums.

With these projects and the utilization of the federal dollars to build a new resource center, the district will have used most of its ESSER III funding unrelated to the learning loss allocation. Debo said those funds are mostly encumbered and will continue to be spent in accordance with the district’s spending plan.

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