Butler County entities to move forward with improvements, expansions as COVID-19 funds released

Projects to make critical infrastructure repairs in small villages, expand the Sonny Hill Community Center in Middletown and expanding the Hamilton Young People Empowered (HYPE) Program will soon be getting underway.

The Butler County commissioners approved subrecipient agreements totaling $5.7 million on Monday with the villages of College Corner, Millvale, New Miami and Seven Mile ($4 million); Middletown city and schools ($1.5 million) and the Hamilton Community Foundation ($200,000), for the release of federal pandemic relief funds.

The three entities were thrilled to hear they can now officially jump start their projects.

“That is awesome news,” Middletown City Manager Paul Lolli said when he learned the funds are on the way.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The county’s slice was $74.4 million.

Rather than keep all the money in-house, the commissioners decided to share the windfall with other governments and groups. The county received an eclectic array of funding requests totaling more than $200 million. They ranged in price from $24 million for new advanced aviation and manufacturing training centers in Middletown and Hamilton to $125,000 for healthcare worker training.

So far, the commissioners have allocated $52.4 million worth of ARPA funds for 17 projects. Since the commissioners have ultimate responsibility for the funds and how they are spent, they needed to ratify subrecipient agreements with the entities outside county government that received funding. That’s why it has taken a little time to push the money out — the commissioners made their decision on first round funding in July.

In addition to these three agreements, they have previously released funds to Miami University ($5 million) for the College@Elm Innovation Workforce Development Center; Middletown ($3 million) to down the ruined Paperboard site and Great Miami Valley YMCA ($1.5 million) for Booker T. Washington Community Center renovations, the Butler County Visitors Bureau ($750,000) to recoup funds lost during the pandemic and Primary Health Solutions ($520,526) to refurbish their dental van.

The agreements for the largest allocation of $15 million for the two Butler Tech projects are still outstanding, according to County Administrator Judi Boyko.

“They are still pending, they wanted to further solidify the lease agreements for the two properties,” she said.

ExploreButler County commissioners fund 15 projects with millions in COVID-19 relief funds

The aviation center is planned at the Middletown airport and Butler Tech Superintendent/CEO Jon Graft has said they are hoping to locate the manufacturing center in the old Richard Allen Academy on the Miami Hamilton campus. He said they believe they can serve at least 200 students per campus and possibly up to 300.

He told the Journal-News they still have some work to do before they can submit their subrecipient agreement for the commissioners’ approval.

“We continue to work through the process with the city of Middletown for the lease agreement doing our due diligence with phase one and two environmental tests as normal procedures in building on land. Our partnership with Miami continues to progress well, as program options and development of the size and scope of the partnership continues to develop,” Graft said. “Once both agreements have been solidified, we will request transfer of the funds from the commissioners and mobilize architectural and construction services.”

Of the funds the commissioners released this week, the two building projects won’t break ground until next year, but Pastor Shaquila “Shaq” Mathews told the Journal-News she plans to put the funds to use immediately expanding the HYPE program with more programming and instructors.

“I believe these funds can be used immediately, the thing with HYPE is I’m never short on programs and ideas,” she said. “You give me some money to use for these kids I can get it done.”

She said there are some volunteers who might be interested in becoming instructors so filling additional positions shouldn’t be too difficult. The money has to be spent by the end of 2026, which won’t be a problem, and she plans to begin looking for other funding sources to sustain the expanded program.

The deadlines and rules for ARPA have shifted since the act was first approved, originally the deadline to spend the funds was 2024. The extra time works in favor of the four small villages who need to make critical infrastructure repairs because it gives them time to seek more funding from other sources.

Shawn Campbell, the consulting engineer who submitted the joint request, originally asked for $11.5 million, but had to pare back when the commissioners awarded $4 million.

“We will be working with each village and assessing each project and looking to see if there are opportunities to leverage funds from other sources for some of the projects that had a shortfall,” Campbell said adding “It’s great news, we’re very positive, we want to get moving to hit the ground running but I don’t see any projects getting ready for construction until later in ‘23.”

Middletown and the schools there have $7.5 million to expand the Sonny Hill Community Center, with the commissioners’ $1.5 million contribution. The schools chipped in $4 million for a preschool in the building and the city $2 million.

Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall said they hope to have the construction plans completed by the first quarter next year, bid opening mid-spring and break ground after Memorial Day, “obviously everything is fungible, it may flow one way or another but that’s our current glide path.”

“The benefit to the community is it will allow our community center to host and to operate some expanded programming,” Cahall said. “Not only targeted toward the youth of our community but it will also further enhance our adult outreach programs, job readiness programs and enrichment programs to benefit the entire Middletown community.”

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