PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (November 28, 2023) – Portsmouth City School District is now just months away from raising the curtain on its new 17,000-square-foot auditorium expansion. Acting Superintendent Josh Morris explains how the expansion project was paid for using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding that was allocated to school districts by the federal government as part of its COVID-19 relief funds.
“Once COVID happened, the federal government put legislation into place to get money to school districts, businesses, and agencies throughout the country for pandemic relief. Things had to be shut down and the money flow stopped. ESSER funding was part of the federal government’s response so services could continue for people who needed those services,” Morris said.
Initially, during the shutdown, Portsmouth City Schools used ESSER dollars to purchase safety equipment such as masks, thermometers, plexiglass shields, signs, and extra staff to help manage this new and confusing environment of learning. Funding was also permitted to be spent on one-time pandemic bonus pay for employees who continued to work during the pandemic. Additionally, the district used this funding to prevent any layoffs.
“The federal government didn’t want to see anybody lose their jobs. So a significant part of our ESSER dollars were used to cover salaries for a number of our folks to make sure we offered continuity of services at the same levels as we were pre-pandemic,” Morris said. “Federal consultants strongly discouraged us from planning on having this money to continue at these levels long-term, so districts were advised not to use the funds for the purpose of year after year salary increases.”
Another challenge facing the district was having limited space, due to pandemic-mandated restrictions, where students could safely social distance in the learning environment.
“Once we were able to return students to class we could only return students to a hybrid schedule. We would have half our students on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other half on Tuesday and Thursday, and we would rotate week-by-week because we still couldn’t meet the social distance requirements. That was an extreme burden on all of our folks that were educating our kids because they were balancing in-person and online learning,” Morris said.
“We asked ourselves ‘If this happened again, how could we improve our processes to be sure we’re better prepared to meet those needs and keep school in session for all students?’”
To help solve this problem, the district appropriated a portion of ESSER funding to expand its learning spaces by constructing the Portsmouth City School Junior and Senior High School Auditorium. Morris said the district was looking for the best way to utilize this spending that would continue to service the district even after the ESSER funding is no longer available.
“Building the auditorium is going to create new opportunities for students, staff, and the community to be able to use the auditorium for class space or presentations, and for many other educational opportunities beyond our acting and vocal music program. Using the auditorium for an expanded learning space was planned out all along and the remaining ESSER dollars are waiting to fulfill the spending required for the remaining construction costs of the auditorium. We are planning to open the auditorium in March 2024,” he said.
The new auditorium will seat more than 450 people and will serve students now and future generations of students for many years to come.
“We pride ourselves on our students having access to their own quality performance space, and we will not have to hold future performances in a cafeteria. Additionally, we are planning for this space to be self-sustainable and will look for community partners who wish to rent this space for their events. We are not-for-profit, but our goal is to make sure the auditorium will be used and rented by others so the costs associated with the utilities and general maintenance will be covered,” Morris said.
For more information about Portsmouth City Schools, visit them online at www.portsmouthtrojans.net, or follow the school’s page on Facebook.