SUNBURY — When students return to school on Aug. 17, the former high school will be open as the new middle school for seventh and eighth graders.
The new Big Walnut High School (BWHS) at 713 N. Miller Drive opened in January. It was completed after the next-door Prairie Run Elementary (PRE) opened, making for a 295-acre campus.
That meant the former high school building at 555 Old 3C Highway was closed for renovations, which are nearly completion.
The gymnasium of what will be the new Big Walnut Middle School (BWMS) was filled with desks, chairs and other furniture when The Gazette visited in July. Some were being sold, and what’s left will go back into the classrooms.
“The district is ‘auctioning’ hundreds of used school furniture items from the former Big Walnut High School,” read an announcement in the Eagle Examiner newsletter. “These items have served their purpose and are beyond their useful life for our learning environments. We are utilizing a web-based site known as GovDeals.com.”
The online bidding for the used furniture ended July 8.
However, much work at BWMS had been completed, such as the installation of new easier-care vinyl flooring, which doesn’t require waxing, and a lighter coat of paint on the building’s three floors. The former dark burgundy carpet was removed, making for a brighter-looking interior. Since fewer students are using lockers these days, a couple rows of lockers were also removed to make room for an extended learning area (ELA) with Wi-Fi. The ELAs are meant for small-group breakouts.
In addition, the old football field was replaced with artificial turf, thanks in part to the Northern Columbus Athletic Association.
The Big Walnut Intermediate School (BWI) is now at 777 Cheshire Road, the site of the former BWMS. The main thing that needed to be done as of early July was to replace the signage. A sign at the old BWI tells the fifth and sixth graders to go to the Cheshire Road location.
The repurposing of the current district buildings is smart from a logistical standpoint, said incoming Superintendent Ryan McLane.
“We’re ready for the move,” Director of Facilities and Maintenance Doug Swartz said. “It’s really a team effort to get it ready.”
Swartz said converting old buildings to new schools isn’t much different than building a new facility from the ground up.
“It’s a very similar process,” he said. “It’s just a matter of dotting all i’s and crossing all the t’s. It’s just a smaller group of contracts.”
Another older building, Big Walnut Elementary, is in the second half of its $1.2 million roof replacement project, he said.
Work at the new BWHS was practically completed, Swartz said, with just a little bit of work left to do — the final stages of the baseball and softball fields and tennis courts.
Reactions to the PRE and BWHS buildings have been “really positive,” Swartz said.
“The public has really embraced it,” he stated. “There have been a lot of third-party rentals of the theater. It’s getting a lot of use.”
The new football field has been in use since March for lacrosse, and it was going to be used for commencement in May, but the weather moved it to the new gymnasium, which accommodated everyone and was air-conditioned.
“For the first time in years, it rained. This gave us some breathing room,” Swartz said of the Class of 2022 graduation.
As for the old BWI, which is next to the new BWMS, it will “be temporarily mothballed,” Swartz said. At first, the plan was to convert it into a new elementary, but the Board of Education will make the final decision.
“We’re meeting enrollment projections and we’re filling our buildings,” he said.
Even though some students have had a sneak peek at the new BWMS, “they’ll still come in with wonderment that first day,” Swartz said. “I like to see their faces. It’s very fulfilling personally and professionally.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.