Middletown school, city officials to pitch community center idea to Butler commissioners

Middletown’s school board and city council are considering a proposed project to revitalize the Ohio 4 and Oakland community area using federal funds. The new or renovated community center would be located where the current Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center is located. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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Middletown’s school board and city council are considering a proposed project to revitalize the Ohio 4 and Oakland community area using federal funds. The new or renovated community center would be located where the current Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center is located. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Project would combine federal funds, along with city, school district and county money totaling $12.1M.

Representatives from the City of Middletown and Middletown City School District will meet Wednesday afternoon with Butler County commissioners to solicit the county’s financial support for a renovated or new community center.

Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick, in an earlier work session, proposed spending $2.1 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds on the community center with $6 million coming from Butler County and $4 million from the Middletown school district, bringing the total investment to $12.1 million.

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During Monday’s school board meeting, the four members present voted unanimously to support the project, though member Todd Moore said he wanted “deeper discussion” before voting. Member Michelle Novak was absent.

Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. and Palenick will make a 15-minute presentation with five minutes allotted for questions from the commissioners, Styles said. He said nine groups are pitching ideas on Wednesday on how to receive part of the $75 million ARPA funding.

The county has received dozens of requests totaling about $97 million for spending the windfall cash that is coming as part of President Joe Biden’s rescue plan.

The city and school district have agreed to name 14 people to a joint committee to study the project. Each have two representatives and both will appoint five stakeholders. On Monday, school board President Chris Urso and Moore were named to the committee. City Council hasn’t voted on its representatives.

By supporting the center, Treasurer Randy Bertram said it shows “solidarity” among the school board.

“They know we’re serious,” Bertram said of the commissioners.

Urso called the potential of using city, school district and county money for one project “an opportunity we don’t get to redo.”

City council also has approved a $50,000 grant to research a possible renovation or building of a community center that would provide “cradle to career” programs, said Karin Maney, executive director of the Community Building Institute that manages the Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center.

The city-owned community center was built in 1925 by ARMCO Steel and is located on 15 acres at 800 Lafayette Ave. The center will remain on Lafayette because it’s “an entry point into the city and will set off the revitalization” of the Ohio 4 corridors, she said.

At the Aug. 2 meeting with city council and school board members, Moore expressed concerns, including questions on whether the project would be the best use of the school district’s share of the federal money.

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

He echoed those thoughts on Monday. Styles and Bertram said they’re working on answering Moore’s questions.