The work of the community-led task force, created for the purpose of Master Facilities Planning, has concluded. Monday night the task force presented its recommendations to the board of education with a three-phase, comprehensive plan.
I’d like to thank our entire community task force led by Nikki Hudson and Amy Lloyd as well as Tracey and Lee from Cooperative Strategies which was DeJong-Richter 15 months ago when we first began this process. There is a visual that I refer to often. On the top it shows a straight line angled upwards and it’s titled “what we think success looks like.” On the bottom it shows a squiggly line that goes up and down but ultimately ends upward in the same place as the top diagram. It’s titled “what success really looks like.” This process was much like that bottom diagram. Our task force would make progress and then take a few steps back. We’d go down one road and determine that road was a “dead end” and then have to backtrack. Our task force persevered. Sometimes they were emotional, sometimes they were frustrated, but they kept coming back. They stayed with the process for 15 months and they dedicated countless hours. In the end I believe the final product honors the input of hundreds of community members as well as the tradition of Worthington. The final product is different than I would have created on my own. I think that’s true of everyone who was part of this process. I’m proud of the work of this team and thankful for their dedication to make Worthington better.
The goal of the Master Facilities Plan is to identify solutions for our most urgent facility and operational needs, including, caring for our aging facilities, managing for enrollment fluctuations, and balancing high school enrollment so that students throughout the district are provided with equitable opportunities no matter which high school they attend. We often refer to these challenges as the ABCs of facilities planning- Aging Facilities, Balancing High School Enrollment and Capacity for all.
Worthington Schools’ enrollment has increased by 1,000 students over the past five years, and independent reports indicate that the district will grow another 800 students over the next five years. Worthington is currently in the top ten school districts for enrollment growth in the entire state of Ohio!
We also have some buildings that are well past the half-century mark, with infrastructure and mechanical systems that are near or beyond their working lifespan and are becoming more costly to maintain. Without a plan, these increasing costs could impact funding in the classroom.
We are also facing a growing unbalance in our high school enrollment. Currently, Thomas Worthington High School (TWHS) has 1,740 students and Worthington Kilbourne High School (WKHS) has 1,250 students. We expect both high schools will grow in enrollment over the next several years and in the case of Thomas Worthington, the growth will exceed the capacity of the building.
For our growing enrollment, the Master Facilities Plan recommends that the school district change elementary configuration to Kindergarten – 5th grade, with 6th grade going to the middle school. Moving 6th grade creates the needed capacity at the elementary level. This decision was based on community feedback collected through online and telephone surveys, which indicated that the majority of our community preferred this option. A big benefit to this plan is that the school district can keep neighborhoods together and minimize redistricting as well.
The district will also reopen Perry Middle School and expand the facility so that we can continue to offer the valued programs Phoenix Alternative Middle School and Worthington Academy.
To address our aging school buildings, Phase I of the plan will rebuild Worthingway and renovate all other middle schools – buildings that are in need of immediate repair. In addition, all schools will receive needed technology and equipment upgrades. Phase II will repair/renovate TWHS. Elementary building replacements and renovations will be considered in Phase II and Phase III.
To better balance high school enrollment, the plan recommends moving an elementary school attendance area from TWHS to WKHS. The decision of which elementary will move to the WKHS attendance area has not been decided. Further discussion and evaluation of elementary schools is needed.
So, what happens next? Monday night the Board of Education received the final report from the community task force. In order for this plan to move forward it will require funding to be approved by the community. Sometime in the next 24 months Worthington will need both a bond issue for capital needs and an operating levy to pay for operating needs. Mr. McCuen and I will engage the Board over the next several months to determine the timing of the upcoming ballot issues and the scope of those ballot issues. Ultimately what is put forward to the community on a ballot will determine the final plan for dealing with our aging buildings, balancing our high school enrollment and creating capacity for all students.
If a bond issue is placed on the Nov. 2018 ballot and is successful, construction could begin immediately. But a change to 6-8 middle schools would likely not occur until the fall of 2021 based upon estimated construction timelines. Balancing of the high school feeder patterns may need to begin sooner than that. In the interim we will continue to add modular classrooms at schools as enrollment continues to exceed capacity.
We’ve completed one phase of an important process that will shape the future of Worthington. I appreciate the input from our community and look forward to seeing this process through to fruition.
- Trent Bowers, Superintendent