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City, School Board to partner for new Okaw building

The City of Vandalia and Vandalia District 203 School Board met jointly on Monday, June 5, to discuss a cooperative partnership that would see a new Okaw Area Vocational Center, which will be located on former city property. Pictured from left: Dr. Jennifer Garrison, Vandalia Superintendent of Schools; board member Kevin Satterthwaite; Mayor Ricky Gottman; and Alderman Bret Brosman.


The City of Vandalia and the Vandalia District 203 School Board have agreed to a partnership that would see a major expansion and investment in the local Okaw Area Vocational Center, which will be located on city-owned property.

The Vandalia City Council met jointly with the school board to unveil plans for a $25 million, 60,000-square foot facility on the city’s 120 acres of property at the west interchange on Main Street. Vandalia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jennifer Garrison explained to the council that the board and administration have been working on a new solution for the Okaw building for more than a year as the current building has no more room for expansion.

“One of our priorities is to expand current career and technical opportunities for our students and to modernize for what our industry currently needs,” Garrison said. “There is a big shift in the nation now of industry wanting to hire directly out of high school and then to upscale their own people from within their own walls.”

Garrison continued by adding that the new facility would allow for future growth. She added that the plan is to raise the monies through fund-raising and grants, so no referendum or increase in taxes will be necessary to bring this plan to fruition.

“Yes It’s a dream,” she said. “It’s a 25 million dollar dream but the only way to make a dream a reality is to start aggressively going for it.”


Board member Kevin Satterthwaite added that the Okaw program is looking for additional programs to add to its offerings, including agriculture and heating and cooling, or HVAC systems. He said the current building would then be used for other programs for junior high school students.

“We have had more demand feeding into OKAW than we have ever really had,” Satterthwaite said. “Trades are so critical and are in such need. There are more and more private money opportunities out in addition to the grants.”

Board President Joe Lawson mentioned an example that happened last year when Altamont Bleachers asked for student volunteers. That opportunity led to full time employment for some students after graduation.

“It’s kind of amazing that casual partnerships turn into jobs for our kids and good training,” Lawson said.

Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman said he fully backs the Okaw plan, mentioning that it was a “true team effort” to get the project to move forward.

“I think this is a great opportunity for the city and the school to join hands and make this a reality,” Gottman said. “We can’t think negatively; we have to think positively.”

Garrison and Gottman said they are also planning on lobbying the new Okaw center to local politicians in hopes of finding available grant opportunities.

After some discussion, the city council unanimously approved to move forward with the plan. City Attorney Ryan Connor advised that the city currently has the authority to move forward with the transfer of the real estate, and it would be made official in the future.