Wellness Center Gets Electrifying Approval 

WARREN, Ohio – Construction of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center at Warren G. Harding High School has received a stamp of approval from none other than Mother Nature.

Last August, just as school was letting out and workers were heading inside to stay dry from the light rain that had just started, a bolt of lightning left its signature on the project – a singular burn mark on a piece of steel, a literal strike of approval, if you will.

Rob Wilt, superintendent for DeSalvo Construction, the contractor for the $36 million project, was doing paperwork in his trailer nearby.

“It lit up like a Christmas tree and it was the loudest noise. In fact, we actually lost our hearing for a little bit, it was so loud,” he says.

Rob Wilt, superintendent for DeSalvo Construction, stands in the main section.

Momentarily dazed and with his hearing temporarily impaired, Wilt rushed to the site to check on the workers and assess the damage.

Fortunately, nobody was injured and everyone on site that day walked away with a good story. Other than a small burn mark on a piece of steel near the roof, the structure was undamaged.

“It did lead to the need to add some lightning-strike protection. That was probably the biggest challenge,” says John Lacy, executive director of business operations for the Warren City School District.

“That was something that in all the detail and all the preparation you do…Mother Nature took control there for a second.”

After the incident, DeSalvo and the school district had the structure thoroughly inspected and – not to tempt fate – installed lightning protection.

“If it does happen again, it will hit the lightning protection and automatically get grounded,” Wilt says.

Despite the additional work brought on by the strike, the project remains on schedule, with completion projected for August.

Wilt says all the floors are poured, 90% of the drywall is complete, and most of the glass has been installed. On this warm winter day, crews are high overhead in bucket lifts, priming the overhead steel for painting.

“Most all of the structural steel is exposed. So it gets painted,” Wilt says.

Work is also set to begin on the flooring, Wilt says. This will take about three months to complete because of the different types that need to be installed, including a turf field, walking and running tracks, and athletic flooring.

Crews recently finished installing perhaps the building’s most prominent feature: a 40-foot-tall glass window that faces north and overlooks Mollenkopf Stadium.

“The thing that’s unique about that is when you get up close, there is a bird screen on it,” Wilt says.

From a distance, the window appears to be regular glass, but a close observer will notice a pattern of tiny dots evenly distributed throughout each panel. The birds can see the dots and understand the structure is solid, preventing them from flying into it.

The center is situated between Warren G. Harding High School and Mollenkopf Stadium. Designed by Phillips Sekanick Architects, the 136,000-square-foot facility aims to be a flexible space for a variety of activities, including athletics, robotics and esports, Lacy says.

“Our robotics facility is probably going to be the best in the state by the time we get done with everything. The community is very excited about this project and the opportunities that it’s going to bring to our students.”

The school district’s John Lacy stands in front of the “study stairs” being built.

Lacy says the district is only beginning to scratch the surface of the opportunities the new center will bring, not only to students but also to the community as a whole.

Discussions are underway with two health care providers to occupy space on the east side of the first floor. One would offer youth services, and the other would be an urgent care facility, Lacy says.

The district is also partnering with a food service provider to manage the student-run bistro.

“Those relationships won’t be finalized for a few more months. But they’re very solid,” Lacy says.

Funding for the $36 million project is coming from state and federal grants as well as from projects already budgeted by the school board. Therefore, no additional tax dollars will be needed.

“A lot of times when our kids want to participate in extracurricular activities, it takes money to participate beyond the season,” Lacy says.

“What we’re trying to do is give our students every opportunity and beyond what a child who lives in a very affluent community can get because of a wealthier family or school district.”

Lacy says the student recreation and wellness center, while transformative and significant, is just one part of the school’s planned transformation. Additional major projects are set to follow the center’s completion, notably the demolition and reconstruction of the visitor stands at the football stadium.

The stands are scheduled to be demolished by December and rebuilt in time for the 2025 football season. Afterward, the district will evaluate the condition of the home stands to determine whether any work is needed.

“This is just the first chapter,” Lacy says. “And the next stage is also going to be quite intensive.”

Pictured: Frame from on-site camera shows when lightning hit the wellness center. Right: the burn mark left by the bolt of lightning.