By Betty Lawrence
ROCKFORD -- It was a night of "wows" Thursday at the Parkway Local Schools education complex as staff, planning committee members and invited guests toured the brand-spanking new 235,000-square-foot facility.
The school district was the recipient of $24 million through the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC) exceptional needs program and the remainder of the $36 million project will be funded by taxpayers.
The dream-come-true has been a long time coming for the consolidated school district that encompasses students in the communities of Rockford, Willshire and Mendon.
Back in 2000, architects from the OSFC toured the 100-year-old schools in Mendon and Willshire. Their assessment helped determine the district's funding eligibility. The OSFC funding was granted in 2003 and ground was broken in a special ceremony two years ago.
To get a retrospect of the size of the one-story brick facility, Bruce Miller, an architect with Garmann/Miller Architects, Minster, who worked diligently with school officials during the tenure of the project, smiled as he noted the building is nearly 5 acres under roof. "I remember when they brought in five semi loads of roofing insulation," he said. "It's been a great six years and great to be part of this project, helping to reshape a community."
The district formerly consisted of an elementary and high school building in Rockford for grades 1-3 and 9-12; the intermediate school in Mendon for grades 3-5, and the middle school in Willshire that housed grades 6-8.
The new school is composed of a preschool and elementary with connecting middle school and high school.
"The intermediate school will be eliminated," Superintendent Doug Karst said.
There are exterior entrances to the high school, elementary and middle schools, all with adjoining administrative offices. The entire building is secured with strategically located cameras.
Parkway is the home of the Panthers and the school colors, gold and black, dominate the interior of the new facility, particularly in the commons area and gymnasiums. Subdued colored terrazzo flooring compliments the building.
The terrazzo flooring and mezzanine areas, situated in several rooms, are LFI's (locally funded initiatives) not included in the OSFC package.
A huge Parkway panther is centered in the 17,400-square-foot high school gymnasium that can seat 2,000 people. The floors also shine brilliantly in the 8,500-square-foot middle school/elementary gymnasium that seats 500.
"This is the little Panther den," smiled lead project manager Nate Neuenschwander, of Tuttle/Bostleman, Lima.
Not to be outdone, the impressive colorful 600-seat auditorium features a large stage with suspended microphones, orchestra pit, catwalk and acoustical block walls.
The spacious high school choir and band rooms also feature the same sound-absorbing walls.
The elementary portion of the building features an accessible centered courtyard and etched ceiling tiles in the kindergarten rooms feature stars, clouds, balloons and butterflies.
Numerous glass cases dot the entire building to hold trophies, memorabilia and other awards.
Parkway has always had a strong industrial arts/vo-ag department and the tradition will continue in the new school. The department will be fully furnished including a fish farm tank for aquaculture and welding bays.
The complex will be flanked by numerous baseball, softball and practice fields, along with a football field and all-weather track. A new bus/storage facility also will be constructed soon.
"This school is just incredible and it will be nice to be in just one building. It will make it a lot easier for the students who have been shuttled from school to school all these years, and I believe it will make a big difference in student morale," commented long-time fifth-grade teacher Sheryl Frahm.
The facility is totally air-conditioned and climate controlled. According to Neuenschwander, code requirements call for the air to be exchanged every six hours.
"I think the air quality may cut down on a lot of illnesses that we've had that may have been caused by the old buildings," Frahm added.
Teachers have been moving, one by one, into the building and minor finishing touches will be ongoing throughout the summer, Karst said.
He has worked on the project most of the seven years that he has served as superintendant at Parkway Local and quiet relief could be heard in his voice after last night's tour.
"We have shared the same vision and now it's time to turn this building into a great learning environment," Karst said.