MOUNT VERNON – After over a year of planning, designing and mulling financial options, the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education voted on Monday to allow Jacket Boosters to begin a public fundraising campaign for what will be known as the ‘Education Gateway Project.’
The overarching title will encompass three separate projects – the Yellow Jacket Drive extension, new athletics fieldhouse and bus maintenance garage – which will take place adjacent to the middle school and high school.
Superintendent Bill Seder unveiled the new project title during Monday’s board meeting, which was held at Wiggin Street Elementary. By passing the aforementioned motion, the district will now be able to secure financing for the project.
“It’s something that we’ve been talking about for some time,” Seder said. “We’ve been talking about it in bits and pieces. Most recently, though, we’ve kind of brought this stuff together.”
Monday's board resolution also gave the athletics boosters the ‘green light’ to charge forward with a fundraising campaign, which Seder said they are eager to begin.
“They’re excited, they’re ready to go. They’ve got fliers and brochures,” Seder said. “They’d like to take an opportunity at the next football game to really begin to raise some general excitement around the Gateway Project, and we really want to make sure that we keep that focus on (the) three-prong approach. So that kind of green-light’s us to move forward.”
Seder also announced during the meeting that Ariel Corporation has agreed to match booster funds dollar-for-dollar in order to support the project, which will lessen the financial burden of such an endeavor.
“That’s quite a gift, and it’s a gracious gift,” Seder said. “But it just goes to the sense that this is about the community, and they want it to be about the community.”
Seder said that the partnership between Ariel and the district “developed over the course of the last two weeks” and that Ariel's funds will go towards all aspects of the project.
Jacket Boosters treasurer Bob Tiell attended Monday’s meeting, as did a representative from Adena Corporation, which will construct the fieldhouse and bus garage. Tiel hopes that having Ariel on-board will fuel fundraising momentum.
“I think it’ll motivate people to give more when they know that their dollars are going to be public,” Tiel said.
Along with introducing the ‘Education Gateway Project’ title, Seder also publicly referred to the fieldhouse as “Community Field House” on Monday for the first time. This branding symbolizes the district's vision for the fieldhouse, which will not only be used by Mount Vernon students, but also by the rest of the community.
Seder envisions senior citizens using the indoor walking track during the winter months. He foresees regional recreational tournaments being held on the courts, which would bring visitors to Mount Vernon (and could potentially spur economic growth). Seder noted that the district might also look into adding ‘community rooms,’ which could serve as meeting places and destinations for before or after-school programs.
“We want to make this accessible to the (furthest) extent possible,” Seder said. “In most collaborative efforts that I’ve seen in other districts, there will be these pigeon-holed times where teams will practice, but outside of some of those times, we open it up to the community.”
Board member Steve Thompson said he had seen Wooster’s athletics fieldhouse, which he believes will likely mirror Mount Vernon’s, and that its impact appeared to resonate well beyond the district’s students.
Thompson and the board seemed confident that the district would be able to fund the project, which could cost up to $7.5 million for all three parts combined, according to figures presented to the board at a special meeting in September.
“I am really, really, really excited. And I am really appreciative of those who have already committed to help fund this,” Thompson said. “As it were, we wouldn’t be talking here tonight if we weren’t certain that that funding was there to see this become a reality.”
A three-court fieldhouse could cost the district up to $4.9 million, which was nearly $2 million over the district's estimate, Seder told the board on Sept. 15. The rise in costs was attributed to a lack of bids – only two construction companies bid on the project – and the district not accounting for contingency or administrative costs.
Construction of the bus maintenance garage could cost up to $1.9 million, which was slightly higher than estimated. The Yellow Jacket Drive extension project will cost the district $500,000, as the Ohio Operating Engineers Apprenticeship and Training Center is willing to donate equipment and labor to complete the project.
Seder said Monday that the City of Mount Vernon has committed to civil engineering and site work for the extension project, while Mount Vernon Nazarene University has agreed to donate the land necessary to make the extension possible.
Seder reiterated during the meeting that the district would not use tax-generated revenue to fund the fieldhouse project, as it will instead use state casino revenue, pay-to-play fees and athletics booster club funds. The booster club has already raised over $1 million in private commitments to help fund the fieldhouse project, Seder said.
“The Jacket Boosters are ready for a green light to go forward,” Seder said. “They’ve had lots of conversations about raising money and they have the ambitious goal to make private partnership a reality. They’ve already kind of raised, or had commitments, of almost a million dollars towards this project, and they’ve not even kicked it off yet. So there’s an excitement there.”
The board may utilize Permanent Improvement dollars for the construction of the transportation maintenance building, as well as the Yellow Jacket Drive extension project.
At the board’s Sept. 15 special meeting, where members talked in-depth about the prospect of funding all three projects (before they were branded as one), the board stressed the importance of being transparent with the community on what the projects would entail and why they are important for not only the school district, but also Mount Vernon.
On Monday, the board did just that. Seder’s presentation broke down the significance of each project while discussing what improvements would be made to existing campus conditions.
He detailed the safety concerns associated with Yellow Jacket Drive’s current setup, where cars must turn around where the street ends during busy pick-up or drop-off hours. There are nearly 2,800 students in the middle school/high school area during dismissal times, Seder said, making the current setup a safety concern.
The extension project would connect Yellow Jacket Drive to Cougar Drive on MVNU’s campus, which “would provide a third access point that would greatly improve school safety and the traffic flow around campus,” Seder said in his presentation.
The district’s current bus garage, a 4,900-square foot facility that sits on 1.9 acres off of Harcourt Road, was built in 1954 and “is in need of significant repair,” Seder said. He noted that the current garage is simply too small to house and maintain the district’s buses.
The new garage will total 12,000 square feet and will have four bus bays, as opposed to the two at the current facility. There will be more room for maintenance and storage, and there will also be a break room for drivers. Being located closer to the middle school and high school will also decrease fuel costs and travel time, Seder noted.
The fieldhouse will feature three multi-purpose courts, two multi-purpose locker rooms, a weight room, a wrestling room and a walking track. It will also contain restrooms, offices and an athletic training room.
Mount Vernon High School Athletic Director Justin Sanford told Knox Pages in June that building an athletics fieldhouse has been an idea within the district for the last 20 years, as it would allow middle school and high school teams to have substantially more access to facilities during the offseason.
"We live one season at a time here because of our facilities,” Sanford said. “And if you’re going to be competitive, not just in the Ohio Cardinal Conference but throughout Central Ohio and in our district, it can’t just be your two-month, in-season time that you get access to the facility."
When commenting on Seder's vision during Monday's meeting, Thompson noted that it would take more than contributions from major private corporations to fund the project. While those donations will be vital, he said it will ultimately take the whole community to make the it happen.
“We still have a lot of community work to do. Because the community needs to weigh in, it can’t just be one private business or a few people,” Thompson said.
“This is an opportunity for our district and our community to rise up and really do something great – not just for the kids, even though that’s what we’re targeting – but to rise up and do something that’s great for all of us.”