Proposal would reshape MVNU, City School campuses
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MOUNT VERNON — Better traffic flow, improved safety and a boost to the city’s economy — the hopes are high for a series of projects involving the City of Mount Vernon, the Mount Vernon City School District and Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
Members of the Mount Vernon city school board, MVNU administration, city council and city administration convened at a special school board meeting Wednesday for presentations on each segment of the multi-project collaboration nicknamed Access to Opportunity. The city and educational institutions will be undertaking major construction at various locations on or near the campuses in the next year, including the reconstruction of the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge, extension of Yellow Jacket Drive and addition of multiple sports facilities to be shared by the city school district and MVNU.
The parties involved say the ambitious renovations are only possible because of months of collaborative planning, a willingness to share resources and support from community donors.
“It’s been an awesome team and we couldn’t be doing any of this stuff without the collaboration and cooperation of individuals like that,” said Bill Seder, superintendent of Mount Vernon schools.
“These projects are converging in a very aligned, very coordinated, very synergistic manner, something you do not see in every community,” said Sam Barone, executive director of the Knox County Foundation.
City Engineer Brian Ball provided some detail on how the city plans to move forward with the replacement of the Mount Vernon Avenue Bridge. Ball said he hopes to have a contract and more specific timeline for the project in place by July 1, with construction starting Aug. 1.
The bridge will be significantly wider with three traffic lanes and 13-feet-wide bike lanes on both sides, Ball said. The city was able to secure a $2.5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation to replace the bridge, as well as an additional $2 million to put towards upgrading the bike trails.
“What you see out there now will not be replaced in kind,” said Ball. “This will be a major upgrade.”
Ball outlined the four phases of the bridge replacement, which will take about a year to complete. The city will start by removing the south side of the bridge and maintaining alternating two-way traffic across the north side of the bridge. Single lane traffic will continue for most of the project’s lifetime, but Ball predicts there will be two periods of up to 21 days where the bridge is closed.
He assured that even though the bridge is being replaced, drivers shouldn’t worry about using it in the meantime.
“Based on a 2012 bridge inspection, they were seeing accelerated degradation and a need to replace the bridge earlier than would be expected,” he said. “It is safe, but we are seeing degradation, we have the money nailed down and we have a construction schedule, so we are moving forward with a replacement.”
Seder shared an update on the Education Gateway project, which includes constructing a new field house and the extension of Yellow Jacket Drive. The field house is set to be completed by spring; the road extension will start this fall.
While an estimate done several years ago predicted a cost of $1.8 million, the extension of Yellow Jacket Drive is now projected to be just $500,000. MVNU donated the land and the Ohio Operating Engineers agreed to donate the equipment and labor needed for the extension, designating it as its apprentice project for fall 2019.
Mount Vernon Middle and High School will not be the sole beneficiaries of a longer Yellow Jacket Drive. The city will be able to install water lines in the donated land. Meanwhile, MVNU will enjoy easier access to the new soccer and lacrosse stadium, which the university plans to build along Yellow Jacket Drive across from the high school/middle school parking lot. The 500-seat stadium will feature a lighted all-weather turf soccer field.
The university will allow the school district to use its stadium, and in turn have access to the school district’s new field house, which will include a 200-meter six lane track and at least three multipurpose courts. The field house will be funded completely by the Jacket Athletic Boosters, community donations and partnerships with local companies.
James Smith, MVNU’s vice president of university relations, said that plan will allow for shared expenses and prevent having redundant facilities.
“Instead of building our own field house and track down the road, it gave us the opportunity to partner with the high school to utilize something that’s already being built,” he said.
Meanwhile, MVNU will be developing the land bordering Mount Vernon Avenue and Cougar Drive into a soccer complex that includes a collegiate stadium, a grass practice field and the community fields — five full-size grass fields that can be used for youth competitions.
The stadium and community soccer complex will be funded by a $100,000 grant from the Knox County Foundation, community donations and a matching gift of $1 million from a community donor. Smith announced at the meeting that more than $500,000 had already been pledged towards the match.
School administrators and city officials believe that the new facilities could have a big impact to Mount Vernon’s economy.
“My two oldest sons both play travel soccer … I’ve seen the business that travel soccer can bring to a community,” said Smith. “We want to bring people to Knox County.”
“We are excited to see how this project will enhance sports competition in the City of Mount Vernon. I cannot wait for the day when people drive down Mount Vernon Avenue and see multiple games being played. It will be a source of joy for the community,” said MVNU president Henry Spaulding.
Mayor Richard Mavis agreed, predicting that the new soccer complex, along with the renovations being done at the Woodward Opera House and newer restaurants opening downtown, will attract more people to the area.
“Without question, I see it being a real economic booster for our community,” Mavis said. “We have some vacant storefronts downtown, but we believe with this much activity that we’ll fill those.”