Too costly: Board pulls out of Middletown pre-school project, citing inflation

Project came in $4M over budget; board votes to move money to transportation building.

MIDDLETOWN — After years of planning and securing funds for improved pre-school classrooms and programs at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center, the project has been cancelled due to lack of finances.

Board President Chris Urso said the Middletown City Schools District received one bid for the project that was $4 million over projections.

Urso called it “a math problem.”

School Treasurer Randy Bertram said the lone bid totaled more than $12 million, including $1 million in contingency and $600,000 in architecture fees.

He said the district had received $8.4 million guaranteed in funding. The school district had committed $4.175 million, the city of Middletown $2.1 million, Butler County Commissioners $1.5 million, state of Ohio $300,000, Middletown Community Foundation $300,000 and Atrium Medical Center $25,000, according to Bertram.

Three years ago, the architect estimated the cost of the project at $8 million, Bertram said.

Superintendent Deborah Houser said when the plan was designed years ago there was “no clue of hyper inflation.”

The district also has to spend its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, a federal program administered by the Department of Education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, by Aug. 30, 2024.

Houser said that doesn’t give the district, which “exhausted” every possible idea, enough time to shift plans at the center.

After discussion, the board voted unanimously Monday night to move the $4.425 million earmarked for the pre-school program to the Transportation Improvement Plan. Bertram called improving the aging transportation facilities “a great use of resources.”

He said the pole barn on Cincinnati Dayton Road will be demolished and replaced and improvements will be made to the parking lot and entrance and exit.

Board member Verlena Stewart, executive director of Community Building Institute, located in the community center, abstained from voting. But she was vocal about the plans being cancelled.

“I can’t express how disappointed I am in the work not being honored,” Stewart said. “This is and was a worthwhile project.”

She called the decision to cancel the project “disheartening.”

Stewart attended numerous meetings where the project was discussed and plans were finalized.

“Our hearts were in the right place,” she said. “It takes more than a few people around the table. It takes the community.”

Stewart said she hopes the city of Middletown continues with its efforts to renovate the center.

“We owe it to the kids,” she said. “We owe it to the community.”

The pre-school program at the center was moved to Rosa Parks Elementary School due to the pending construction at the community center, according to Stewart.

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