Johnson Elementary School construction trucks along, looking forward to moving day


Fort Thomas Independent Schools

FTIS Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser and Johnson Principal Ashley Dikeos pose with Johnson Elementary School, under construction. Photo courtesy of Fort Thomas Independent Schools.

     From 1923 to 2019, many students and staff called the Johnson Elementary School building home. However, after standing for almost 100 years, the school was demolished and construction on a brand-new school began. As the new building continues construction, the Johnson community is excitedly waiting to move into their home. On December 31, 2020, a video was posted on YouTube with an update and tour of the building under construction.

     Fort Thomas Independent Schools (FTIS) Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser, Johnson Principal Ashley Dikeos, and architect Joe Hayes gave a construction tour of the building. They talked about some new features, such as a double-sided stage, collaboration spaces, white board walls, terrazzo flooring, and a plaza.

      “It’s been super exciting, I mean, we have weekly progress meetings and every time you come over, you see something different each time,” said architect Joe Hayes. 

      In addition to the modern aspects, the new school is built with natural materials and embraces the nature surrounding it, giving it a national park feel.

      The original construction plan had a time estimate of three years. In this plan, construction would take place in a few stages, and classes would take place in mobile units. However, after bids were exceptionally high and over the budget, a new plan was created.

      “Members of the Fort Thomas Board of Education, the District and Johnson administrations, representatives from the City of Fort Thomas, our architects and engineers, and others met to discuss all ideas that could help us get the overall costs down,” said Jerry Wissman, the FTIS director of operations. 

      They found that moving the students off campus during construction would not only be cheaper, but it would also take less time.

      Johnson would be temporarily moved to the Death Valley baseball field. It was renamed “Johnson Valley,” because “Death Valley” didn’t sound like a good place for an elementary school. This move allowed construction to take place in one phase, rather than two or three. It also allowed for a large retaining wall to be moved closer to the building, saving over one million dollars. This new plan was scheduled to take 15 months, allowing students to return to their school by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

      However, the construction took a bit longer than expected, due to a few delays. Demolition took longer than expected, weather created maneuvering difficulties, and COVID-19 caused minor delays with supply chain disruptions. The Fort Thomas Education Foundation also partnered with the school to add enhancements.

      “These are valuable additions which we knew would take some extra time to complete when we decided to pursue them,” shared Wissman. “None of these individually added significant time to the project, but collectively they slowed things down to our current schedule.” 

      The construction should be done sometime before mid-May. After the building is finished, furniture and technology will be added. While classes won’t start at the new building until next school year, events may be held there.

       Dr. Cheser in the construction video tour said, “It’s all going to be worth it, unbelievably, in just a few short months.”