Middletown could see new community center, improved Oakland area in schools-city partnership

Middletown’s school board and Middletown City Council are considering a proposed project to revitalize the Route 4 and Oakland community area using federal funds. At its center would be a new and expanded community center where the current Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center is located. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Middletown’s school board and Middletown City Council are considering a proposed project to revitalize the Route 4 and Oakland community area using federal funds. At its center would be a new and expanded community center where the current Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center is located. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A proposed, multi-million dollar neighborhood project would see a financial partnership between Middletown Schools and city government through a sharing of coronavirus economic relief funds, according to recent joint meeting.

Monday evening’s meeting between Middletown’s school board and Middletown City Council included a presentation by City Manager Jim Palenick, who outlined the proposed project to revitalize the Route 4 and Oakland community area using federal funds.

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At its center would be a new and expanded community center where the current Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center is located.

The more than $6 million project would create “an expanded and improved Route 4 corridor provides Middletown and Butler County with a place for youth and families to recreate, to learn, and to seek personal enrichment and fulfillment at the community center; new jobs resulting from redeveloped and remediated brownfield sites; and many new opportunities for decent, safe, contemporary and affordable new housing within a revitalized Oakland neighborhood,” Palenick said in a statement released Tuesday by the city.

“The use of these funds as contemplated will truly enrich all aspects of community life post-COVID-19-pandemic, and will further serve as a legacy to future Middletown and Butler County residents who will be provided expansive new opportunities as a result of these projects,” he said.

According to Palenick, the proposed facility could include a commercial grade, culinary incubator/kitchen, a Boys and Girls Club, and an early childhood preschool center.

Marlon Styles Jr., superintendent of the 6,300-student Middletown Schools, said the plan would position the district as a focus point in the city.

“Middletown Schools wants to be the heartbeat of the community, meaning we need to be there after school hours. By partnering with the City of Middletown and Butler County with the (federal) American Rescue Plan funds, we have a rare opportunity to give our community a family-friendly facility where children of all ages can have fun in a safe environment,” said Styles.

No vote was taken on the proposal at the joint meeting but Middletown Board of Education member Todd Moore had concerns, including questions on whether the project would be the best use of the school district’s share of the federal money.

“Middletown City Schools has an opportunity with (this) federal funding to solve long-term district problems with class sizes, capacity issues with the high school and middle school - all without asking voters for a tax levy. We shouldn’t spend money on any project until the district addresses problems facing the district first,” said Moore.

“While the community center project has merit, we must consider other district needs. Before we invest $4 million in the Community Center, we must first address the needs of the district,” he said.

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