By Charlotte Caldwell
RUSSIA – The Russia Local School District held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new building addition on Sept. 22 with students, community members and state officials in attendance.
The new addition, which is being worked on by Garmann Miller and Level MB Construction, will include a career tech classroom and lab; a performing arts stage; a special needs preschool; a 7,400-square-foot multipurpose gymnasium with a youth basketball court, a volleyball court, two pickleball courts and a walking track; a 1,500-square-foot community wellness/weight room; a new varsity gymnasium and locker rooms; a batting cage; and a golf simulator. The plan also includes an expanded back parking lot which will add approximately 110 spaces. The estimated completion time is August 2024 before the school year starts.
Part of the addition will be space for a Future Farmers of America (FFA) industrial art program, and Upper Valley Career Center will provide a teacher, the curriculum and materials. Shelby Hills Preschool will provide a teacher and supplies for the special needs preschool classroom.
Ohio State Rep. Tim Barhorst, Ohio Sen. Matt Huffman, and a representative from U.S. Rep. Mike Carey’s office attended and provided remarks at the beginning of the ceremony.
“A community center is called a community center for one thing – it’s because it’s for all of you,” Barhorst said. “Keep making Russia better, and we’ll try to help you to keep that going.”
“There are about 600 plus school districts in the state of Ohio, about 3,000 school buildings, and they’re not all the same. Some of them are not doing what you are doing here in this community,” Huffman said. “What happens in a town like Russia is the great work of education. The things that parents in conjunction with their school boards and their superintendents and their teachers want to happen with their kids. We just got a report card out and this school is one of the top 10 schools in the state.”
Russia Superintendent Steve Rose discussed how the project started with the help of the community.
“Over four years ago, a community member approached me with the idea of building an activity center. The Board of Education agreed that this would be a great addition to the community, but at that time, the Board of Education thought it should be 100% community effort. A few years later, we continued to hear more input from the community that we needed to have a stage, as we have not had a stage since 2003. During that time, we also had some students, including some seniors who are sitting here today, who came to the Board of Education requesting that we should start an FFA program. Well we heard you.
“We met numerous times with the community member and we brainstormed ways the Russia committee could work together on a project that would not only serve the district but also the needs of the community. The Russia Board of Education discussed this at great length and decided that if the community could raise $2 million for the community portion of the project, we would move forward and place a levy on the ballot.
“I wasn’t 100% confident that it could be done. To my amazement, this community not only met the goal of raising $2 million, but they raised over $3 million to make this project happen,” Rose said.
The levy for the addition was voted on in the November 2022 general election and passed with 549 yes votes and 372 no votes.
Rose then introduced Dan Hoying, the community member who came up with the activity center idea and was told by other community members that his idea would never come to fruition. He spoke about the features that will be included in the addition.
“The part that I like about these elements the most is that these facilities are not performance spaces, rather publicly available spaces for you and your families and the community youth teams to practice, get better, gain confidence, develop work ethic, practice habits, and build camaraderie,” Hoying said.
Dr. Josh Francis, a board member for 18 years, said, “Every time occasions like this arise, I want to take an opportunity to remind us all and define the role of a local school board. We’re elected to represent the views of the community. In trying to do so, I’ve heard views from many people who felt that our current facilities were a bit underwhelming. People expressed opinions about the lack of a stage for performing arts. The lack of a robust and accessible weight room. The deficiencies of our current junior high gym and the lack of an improved and slightly more showcased varsity gymnasium. I was also reminded of the assurances that the old school board made years ago that if we were to add on that we could rotate the junior high gym and make that into a new big gym and build out that way. All the brainstorming and the various iterations of this project, we tried to incorporate all these opinions, all this feedback and all of these views, which is the job of the board, and I think we did a really good job of that.”
The school’s staff tasked the students with writing speeches and drawing pictures about “what this building project means to me and the community,” and four of the students representing all grade levels in the district presented their work.
Kindergartener Remi Monnin, son of Cameo and Craig Monnin, drew a picture of the gym as his favorite part of the expansion. Fourth-grader Blake Borchers, daughter of Jake and Heather Borchers, talked about playing with the band on the new stage and new opportunities to practice and get better at different sports. Sixth-grader Vivian Hoehne, daughter of Jeff and Maria Hoehne, mentioned the positives of the new addition features, like not having to drive to other communities for special needs preschool and a stage. Senior and Student Council President Jaela Shappie, daughter of Mark and Melissa Shappie, spoke about all generations of the community that will be coming together to build and use the new space and challenges she has faced with the current facilities.
Visit the Russia Local School Facebook page for periodic updates on construction.