Rising inflation and other influences over the past year have changed the cost on some of the project requests the Butler County commissioners received for their $74.4 million in federal COVID-19 funding.
The commissioners started receiving requests from people a year ago, after they offered to share their $74.4 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Times have changed since then, prices have inflated and the commissioners wanted more detailed information about some of the projects and how they will make a positive impact on the county.
All three commissioners concurred on 21 projects and County Administrator Judi Boyko sent requests for updated information to 11 requesters. Miami University’s request for $10 million for its College@Elm Innovation & Workforce Development Center sent the largest cost increase, they want $2 million more to pay for start-up operating costs.
Randi Thomas, vice president for the university’s Advancing Strategy, Partnerships, Institutional Relations, & Economy program, said the extra funds — $10 million is for construction — will pay to hire people to provide the services at the center. The center will house office space, an entrepreneurship center, startups, a workforce and small business development resource center, a design and testing area and space for manufacturing operations in a former Miami food services building.
The commissioners have been adamant the projects they fund must be self-sustaining; Thomas said it will be, they just need the $2 million to get started.
“After those dollars are extinguished then between grants and the university we would continue on,” Thomas said. “So our project will last long after COVID is in our rearview mirror, with the resources the university has over time.”
The largest increase is nearly $1 million to demolish and mediate the old Paperboard site at the gateway to Middletown. The new cost estimate is $3.37 million. Paul Lolli, the city’s acting city manager and fire chief told the Journal-News the costs could shift again after they receive requests for proposals which they will be issuing soon.
“Inflation is really hurting us,” Lolli said.
The largest funding request comes from Butler Tech for two new advanced technology training centers, an aviation facility at Hook Field in Middletown and advanced manufacturing in Hamilton. The initial estimate was a flat $12 million for each center. In the updated proposal they have honed in on a break down of costs for construction, equipment and the first year of operation to $22.9 million.
“Our estimates early on had a lot of contingency and then as you begin to solidify a possible locations, specifically the Hamilton location, as we’ve continued to work with Miami University, you can sort of narrow your focus a little bit,” Superintendent/CEO Jon Graft told the Journal-News. “But Butler Tech has been in the construction business for a while now and we’re pretty good about estimating.”
He said they haven’t sealed the deal yet but 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 said they will absorb operating expenses after the first year.
The request for funding for the HYPE Youth Program in Hamilton by Pastor Shaquila “Shaq” Mathews also increased from $275,000 to $355,581 since she submitted her request last year. She said she would like to add three more instructors.
“It’s due to inflation as well as this expansion on staff and other programs we’ve already to started with HYPE,” Mathews said. “We’re moving more into taking a deeper dive into workforce development with our programs.”
She is confident they will be able to sustain the expanded program.
The commissioners also want to help the villages of College Corner, Millville, New Miami and Seven Mile make critical infrastructure repairs. Shawn Campbell, the consulting engineer who submitted the joint request for $11.5 million, said their estimate is unchanged, despite inflation and high gas prices that are wreaking havoc with other infrastructure projects.
“We prioritized a little bit of work but after looking back at the pricing, yeah we could have increased them, but what we’re seeing and the conservative numbers we put to the projects, I think we’ll be fine with our request,” Campbell said.
The Butler County Regional Transit Authority had requested $200,000 in ARPA funds to help pay for a new commuter route from Middletown to Cincinnati, but Executive Director Matt Dutkevicz told the Journal-News they determined ARPA can’t pay for transportation. He said they will still bring the new route online.
“We have funding for it, that was supposed to help get it off the ground but it won’t effect anything,” he said. “It would have been nice to have the help but we’re going to figure out how to make it work.”
The amounts requested for the other preferred projects did not change or were not available.
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