Shortages, supply chain issues slow school building projects in Butler County

Though the $10 million expansion of Middletown's Rosa Parks Elementary has had some unexpected challenges due to nationwide shortages of construction materials, trucking services and other problems, city school officials say the project is on schedule to open by start of classes in August. The expansion will add 13 classrooms and dramatically modernize some learning areas in the school. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
Though the $10 million expansion of Middletown's Rosa Parks Elementary has had some unexpected challenges due to nationwide shortages of construction materials, trucking services and other problems, city school officials say the project is on schedule to open by start of classes in August. The expansion will add 13 classrooms and dramatically modernize some learning areas in the school. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

Nationwide shortages of lumber, other construction materials and labor are slowing but not stopping local school expansion projects.

School officials in Middletown and Oxford said Thursday their elementary school expansion projects – costing millions of dollars and targeting completion by start of school in August – are making progress despite the challenges.

“Everyone is constantly monitoring and making adjustments with the understanding of the great importance of having Marshall Elementary ready to open on time,” said Holli Morrish, spokeswoman for Talawanda Schools of the $15 million expansion project.

Besides soil issues and weather delays, said Morrish, “there has also been an issue with getting some building materials.”

“Many items are not being made fast enough, not enough workers to make or process, and raw materials simply are not available resulting in many items being back ordered for months now. The expansion tank, core locks and a failed HVAC coil are just a few of the items,” slowing the work.

More details on the new Marshall expansion and opening scheduled will be made available during Talawanda’s school board meeting on June 21.

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A combination of factors — many coronavirus-related — have played a role in the lumber price surge, local industry professionals said.

The cost of lumber has nearly doubled in the past year and almost tripled for some items, according to industry professionals.

Some lumber mills shut down last year. There is a shortage of truck drivers to haul the products. Interest rates are low, leading to a strong new homes construction market. And there has been a rise in home-improvement projects.

Trucking shortages have also impacted many construction projects. A lack of drivers caused by stoppage in training for new drivers during the coronavirus now sees Ohio projected to have 9,628 annual openings for heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers through 2028, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The $10 million Rosa Parks Elementary expansion is further along its construction timeline with much of its colorful and modernized learning spaces done, said Middletown school officials.

“We are still on time for the first day of school and we can’t wait for the students to see the new spaces,” said Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for the city schools. “Right now, Conger Construction is finishing up some final details and giving the rest of the school a little facelift such as new paint.”

A new school in Carlisle, an expansion at Marshall High School in Middletown and a $2 million addition to private Badin High School in Hamilton were some of the recently finished projects in the region.

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Kings Schools voters rejected a proposed tax bond issue in 2019 and 2020 to build a new junior high and expand other learning spaces and the need remains, said school officials.

A Lakota Schools study of facilities to determine infrastructure needs was delayed in 2020 by the coronavirus but has since resumed.

The expansion of the Middletown elementary isn’t just about creating more space, said Beadle, but will also help lessen elementary classroom student population across the 6,400-student district.

Rosa Parks is adopting a new learning program – Challenge Based Learning (CBL) – featuring “small breakout rooms, big, open collaborative spaces, classroom walls that can be moved to create an even larger space and gathering stairs.”

“The breakout rooms and collaborative spaces will give students a real-world feel to their schoolwork challenges and offer them new opportunities for learning,” said Beadle.