By Hasan Karim and Sarah Volpenhein of the Marion Star
MARION – Multimillion-dollar development projects were in the works this year in Marion, driving investment and economic opportunity into the area. POET Biorefining began construction on a $120 million expansion of its biorefining plant just northwest of Marion, and the Harding Home was cleared out to prepare for a $7.3 million project to restore the home to its 1920s state. Marion City Schools raised more than $700,000 in private donations to install new synthetic turf at Harding Stadium as part of an ongoing effort to modernize the 82-year-old facility, and The Ohio State University at Marion opened a $15.5 million facility for science and engineering research and education. Star staffers voted these development projects as among the top stories of 2017.
Harding 2020 restoration
The Harding Home, which is closed to the general public during the restoration, was emptied earlier this month of all its historical objects and furnishings, said Harding Home Site Manager Sherry Hall. “You’ll see more activity as far as working in the home in the next few months, and it’s going to get dirty. We have plaster repairs, work on the front porch to do,” Hall said. The house and its grounds are to be restored to their appearance in 1920 when Harding conducted his front porch campaign, speaking to crowds of people from the house leading up to the election. The home is slated to reopen in 2020, marking the centennial of president Warren G. Harding’s election as the 29th president of the United States. Hall said 2018 will be a “very busy year” for the Harding 2020 project, which includes not only the restoration of the Harding Home, but the construction of a 15,000-square-foot museum to the north of the home. Four houses just north of the Harding Home are on track to be torn down in spring 2018 to make way for the museum, dubbed the Harding Presidential Center, Hall said. Construction on the museum is slated to begin in June, she said. “It will take you through the whole story you won’t get in the (Harding) Home,” Hall said. “You’ll go into the Marion Star office, how it looked for him, you’ll go through his political careers, the last trip the Hardings took. You’ll experience his death on that trip, and then you’ll experience his legacy, what happened to his legacy after his death.” Work has already begun on the Harding Home, with crews removing wallpaper inside the home this month. Hall said she expects a lot of the structural work on the house to start in summer 2018. Hall said the museum and the restored Harding Home will boost the local economy, estimating the site will bring in about 35,000 visitors per year. “We’re the only town in the world that could have this story … and that’s going to drive tourism,” she said.
POET still expects to finish construction in the fall of 2018, said General Manager Rick Fox. “There’s been all kinds of construction activity,” Fox said. “Structural steel’s going up, tanks are being installed, the equipment’s on site.” The project is expected to create 18 to 21 new, permanent jobs and to more than double the plant’s production from up to 70 million gallons to up to 150 million gallons of ethanol per year. Marion City Auditor Kelly Carr has said she expects the city to see a boost in income tax revenue partly because of POET’s expansion.
Marion City Schools almost done with its turf project
The turf project at Harding Stadium is nearing the goal line. Fundraising continues in the community, as school officials hope to began construction on the project’s latest phase next week; the expansion of two ticket booths. The stadium’s four existing ticket booths will be reduced to two extended buildings equipped with new roofs and electrical systems, designed to create more space for foot traffic, according to Marion City school board president Steve Williams. “We decided to incorporate this into our master plan after one of our donors wanted to specifically renovate those ticket booths,” Williams said. “There will be 12 feet between the booths making it easier for people to get into the stadium.” Williams said that the renovation is just one step in a multi-phase plan to modernize the stadium, which was built in 1935 as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project. Updates began with a new scoreboard six years ago, followed by new visitor’s section bleachers and an eight-lane, all-weather track. The latest round of the project began three years ago as the district planned to install new synthetic turf using private donations through the Marion Harding Booster Club. So far, the club has raised $731,150 total; $641,550 of that went to the excavation and installation of turf over the summer, which was the culmination of a fundraising effort called “The Drive For Turf.” Supporters of the project said that the synthetic field would more easily accommodate multiple sports throughout the school year while providing a level and resilient playing field. Leftover donations, including $5,000 from the district’s capital fund will finance the ticket booth renovations, which are expected to be completed by the end of March in preparation for the first track meet in the spring, said Williams. The district is still accepting donations and has received $11,000 for the project by three donors earlier this month. “The intent is to enhance the public use of the facility,” Williams said. “It is used by many different organizations and all of our fall programs benefit from these projects.” The next phase will include a new plaza area designed to enhance the entrance of the stadium. The plaza will include a landscaping project and a wall that will commemorate previous school buildings that were torn down between 2002 and 2004. Williams said that no funds have been raised for the plaza yet and that the district hopes to start that project within the next two years.
OSU-M science building
Students and faculty are settling into the $15.5 million science and engineering building at The Ohio State University’s Marion campus, that opened over the summer. The building features 10 new laboratories and classrooms for biology, chemistry, earth science and engineering students and faculty, as well as a greenhouse. It replaced the old science labs on Morrill Hall’s third floor that offered students and instructors limited space, according to Dave Claborn, director of development and community relations for the campus. “An entire class can now participate in a lab at the same time, which was not the case in Morrill Hall,” Claborn said. OSU-M professors say the 32,000-square-foot building provides more opportunities for student and faculty research. Assistant professor of molecular genetics Ruben Petreaca told the Marion Star in a previous article that his previous lab space “was literally a closet.” Petreaca added that he now had more space and access to equipment to conduct research relating to DNA damage repair with four of his students. The building allowed the campus to expand the number of STEM classes that it offers, including the addition of a second section of organic chemistry added last semester. “It allows us more opportunities and it also gives us the potential to expand our engineering program,” Claborn said. Though the regional campus does not have an engineering program, Claborn said that the campus has increased the amount of engineering courses available to students, offering more general engineering classes. The school is also looking into offering a four year applied engineering degree, that would offer classes in multiple engineering disciplines, instead of focusing on just one. Campus officials have been in talks with local manufactures such as Whirlpool to come up with the framework of that degree, according to Claborn.