Old BWHS becomes new BWMS

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SUNBURY — When students return to school on August 17, the old high school will open as a 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 nearby Prairie Run Elementary (PRE) opened, creating a 295-acre campus.

This meant the old high school building at 555 Old 3C Highway was closed for renovations, which are nearly complete.

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 sold, and what remains will return to classrooms.

“The district is auctioning off hundreds of used school furniture items from the former Big Walnut High School,” read an ad in the Eagle Examiner newsletter. “These items have served their purpose and are beyond their useful life for our learning environments. We use a website known as GovDeals.com.

The online auction for used furniture ended on July 8.

However, a lot of work had been done at the BWMS, such as the installation of new, easier-to-maintain vinyl flooring that does not require waxing, and a lighter coat of paint on all three floors of the building. The old dark burgundy carpet has been removed resulting in a brighter interior. Since fewer and fewer students are using lockers these days, a few rows of lockers have also been removed to make way for an Extended Learning Area (ELA) with Wi-Fi. ELAs are for little ones groups.

Additionally, the old soccer 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 to do from the beginning of July was to replace the signage. A sign at the old BWI directs fifth and sixth year pupils to the Cheshire Road location.

Repurposing the district’s current buildings is logistically smart, new superintendent Ryan McLane said.

“We are ready for the move,” said Doug Swartz, facilities and maintenance manager. “It’s really a team effort to prepare it.”

Swartz said converting old buildings into new schools isn’t much different than building a new facility from scratch.

“It’s a very similar process,” he said. “It’s just a matter of dotting all the 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 is mostly complete, Swartz said, with just a little work to do — the final stages of baseball and softball fields and tennis courts.

Reaction to the PRE and BWHS buildings has been “really positive,” Swartz said.

“The public really embraced it,” he said. “There have been a lot of rentals of the theater by third parties. It is used a lot.

The new football pitch has been in use since March for lacrosse, and it was supposed to be used for the start 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. It gave us a bit of a break,” Swartz said of the class of 2022 graduation.

As for the old BWI, which adjoins the new BWMS, it will be “temporarily mothballed,” Swartz said. At first, the plan was to convert it to a new Elementary, but the Board of Education will make the final decision.

“We are meeting enrollment forecasts and filling our buildings,” he said.

Even though some students got a glimpse of the new BWMS, “they will still walk in awe on that first day,” Swartz said. “I love seeing their faces. It is very rewarding personally and professionally.

The sign of the old middle school reminds the community of the address of the new school.

The old college will become the new college.

Gary Budzak can be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

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