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Innovative Campbell schools center started with a discussion

The 70,000-square-foot Community Literacy Workforce and Cultural Center will open this spring and City Schools Superintendent Matthew Bowen says "It truly serves people from birth to age 90.”

CAMPBELL — A seemingly typical Civics Day conversation in 2016 between Campbell Memorial High School graduating seniors and community leaders about the need for more gymnasium space led to some surprising innovation.

After thinking far outside the traditional educational box, the 70,000-square-foot Community Literacy Workforce and Cultural Center will open this spring.

Campbell City Schools Superintendent Matthew Bowen recently gave Mahoning Matters a tour of the campus.

"This is truly a shared service model that embraces the many needs of our community. This whole model is about recruiting and retaining our own talent here in the Mahoning Valley, and then promoting future business and industry to locate to a region where we could show that we have a prepared workforce,”  Bowen said.

The Ohio Department of Taxation’s data from returns filed in 2018 ranked the median income in Campbell City Schools at 607 out of 612 school districts in the state.

"Predictive analytics would say that we should be an 'F' district, but we have an 'A' in growth, a 'B' in gap closure, and a 'C' overall on the report card, and we continue to improve," Bowen said, adding "We are already promoting STEM education and workforce readiness within our current buildings." 

The trick in developing the community-inclusive center, Bowen said, is to avoid saying "No."

"If a partner came to us with a piece that fit, we said 'Yes,'” Bowen said.

Saying “yes” has led to a change in the conversation in Campbell City Schools beyond a sole expectation of graduation, he said.

"Now the expectation has become, how are you going to contribute to society and how are you going to be successful in life? How will you create an adequate income necessary to raise a family and enjoy the American Dream?” Bowen said. “Our model really focuses on blending career credentials with higher education opportunities."

The project is a collaboration between multiple public and private partners including the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Southwoods Health, Stark State College, Eastern Gateway Community College, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, Mahoning Valley College Access Program, and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Inspired by a similar facility in Ashtabula, Campbell school officials decided that the public would be served better by incorporating the library and a health facility in the same space as the gymnasium. From there, the project grew to incorporate three phases.

Bowen dubbed Phases 1 and 2 of the project "the Center of Opportunity."

"There are so many opportunities that exist in this space, from health and wellness, to high-level engagement with STEM, to early college experiences, to library services," Bowen said. "It truly serves people from birth to age 90.”

Phase 3 will create what he calls a "Center of Hope", the Whole Child/Whole Family Service Center. With 1.1 million dollars of investment anticipated, it will align with the state’s prioritization on school districts providing additional services and programming focused on improving engagement, mental health, and access to other services that impact academic and non-academic success. 

To date, including Phases 1 and 2 of the project, Campbell City Schools and the public-private partners have garnered nearly $14 million in funding, grants, in-kind support.

The centerpiece of the facility is a flexible-use auditorium area that can accommodate up to 400 people. 

Partitioned areas with telescoping bleacher seats with flip-up tablet arms make the space ideal for lectures, professional development courses and conferences. When the bleachers retract, the center can be used for party rentals. The facility also has a concession area that in addition to the standard fare will feature healthy choices, such as wraps, yogurt and fruit.

When completed, the campus will house the Northeast Ohio Impact Academy, The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, Southwoods Health Clinic, Stark State and Eastern Gateway educational laboratories.

The gymnasium space that inspired the project includes two full-sized basketball courts, pickleball courts and an indoor walking track. 

"Our model talks about high levels of engagement. The more we engage our young people and our families, the more we eliminate the risk factors. In order to say no to a risk factor, we must focus on replacement behaviors and engagement,” Bowen said. “Everything here is about eliminating risk factors through opportunity.”