By James Underwood, ’23.

As UAHS students enter a new school year marred in uncertainty, work on the new building quietly continues. Already the building has taken full shape, and the building is scheduled to open for the 2021-22 school year.

According to UA Schools Chief Operating Officer Chris Potts, some 150 workers are on site each day. The exterior brickwork and structural steelwork are already complete, and crews are currently working on concrete flooring and roofing, as well as electrical, mechanical and plumbing work. Crews have also begun digging out the natatorium, according to Potts.

Special measures are being taken to counter the spread of COVID-19 on-site, according to Potts, including hand washing stations, facial coverings and self assessments.

According to Potts, COVID-19 has not “impacted [the] schedule,” though “in some cases we’ve seen some delays of materials and supplies that contractors need for building.”

The construction of the new building has coincided, and at times intertwined, with growing awareness and curiosity about Pleasant Litchford, a freed enslaved man who settled much of what is now Upper Arlington and whose family cemetery was on the land that is now UAHS. Some bodies were relocated in the 1950s, but according to the 2016 book “Secrets Under the Parking Lot” by Diane Kelly Runyon and Kim Shoemaker Starr, “it is strongly believed that more burials are still” at the site.

Last month, the district had preliminary archaeological work performed on the site to find any such burials, a step which Superintendent Paul Imhoff described in a news release as “an important learning opportunity for our entire community.” The area searched extended slightly onto the construction site but not onto the new building itself.

Alongside the work at UAHS, construction and renovations at the district’s five elementary schools are underway.

New classrooms at Tremont opened last winter. The new Greensview and Wickliffe buildings, as well as renovated portions of Barrington and Tremont, were scheduled to for the first time greet students beginning this year. Once in-person learning resumes, students at these elementary schools will enter their new buildings, and Windermere will hold classes at the old Wickliffe building. Teachers have already begun moving into their new classrooms.

The district has released “virtual walkthrough” videos of the elementary schools being demolished so that graduates can take a last look at their alma mater.

As for UAHS, the district hopes to hold an open house before demolition “to give people an opportunity for one more walk down memory lane,” Potts said. “Our hope for the high school is that we’re through this COVID situation and we’re able to decommission that building the right way.”

Before the construction could begin, Upper Arlington voters had to approve Issue 43, a combined $230 million bond issue and $3.75 million operating levy. After the issue passed in November 2017 with 55% of voters approving it, the district entered a one-year design phase.

The elementary and high school projects are only phase one of the district’s master plan. Once these projects are completed, the district will continue to evaluate Burbank Early Childhood School and the two middle schools before presenting their plan to voters.

According to Potts, all construction projects remain on time and on budget.